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On the movement of static things #5:
On reality, we impose our beliefs over what could be seen and observed from first principles. Our subjective view, our believed sense of the world, imposes a stasis and through this lens, we see an eternal and unchanging reality; a stable world, where if the sea pulls out it will return to the shore, that the sun goes down only to rise at dawn from the other direction. Continuity exists as an emotional necessity: we could not survive constantly testing each change, or by throwing away all assumptions and always questioning our senses.
I would like to draw your attention to a production line in modern writing that is creating new clichés. Attempting to rush through to the end and get the message across in a piece of writing, using the fewest number of words, writers are combining terms in a way that removes all meaning and confounds comprehension. In building new compound expressions, joining two words using a conjunction, writers mistakenly believe that meaning is enhanced. To affect a poetic pairing, meaning can be eroded through the stripping out resonance, narrowing context, and leaving words as hollow and shallow jargon.
We take turns shutting down, closing out this constantly moving landscape, the movements that repeat like phrases of music, disturbing our balance and concentration to the point where we stop trusting our instruments and start making mistakes. We have theorised amongst ourselves about how the local wildlife has adapted to these forces, hoping to get clues to manage these changes and potentially increase our productivity, but the number of variables is daunting. Our judgement using automatic human default behaviours is the greatest risk to our survival, yet we resist working blind, using only instruments, preferring to monitor each other’s performance.
As he spoke his nose wrinkled twisting his face into a frown and his eyes lowered to the phone in his hand. ‘I doubt it,’ he said. ‘Creative non-fiction is just a load of rot, it is all just non-fiction. You don’t need a sub-category. Does that mean that everyone else is writing incompetent non-fiction?’
I concede the term is not transparent, but that doesn’t mean that what theorists are intending to define is invalid. Genre terms, in their rush to name, forget that antonyms, words that define by exclusion, also need also to carve out their own conceptual spaces.
Images one not seen before, those misaligned or off-centre, have the capacity to awaken dormant parts of the brain. Casually looking at images, I was surprised by this automatic response and its physical traits: I became alert, sat taller, there was a sensation not unlike a muscle stirring, as the brain methodically scanned one image, gathering information. My focus narrowed, excluding all else, and nebulous questions rose, bearing in their wake a sense of urgency and anxiety. I wanted to categorise or recognise the image, name the parts, understand the underlying structure, and explain why my interest had been engaged.
How much of understanding is buried in the lilt and intonation, the poetry of expression, is an area that must be explored by every writer, if they want to perfect their craft, or even if they want to develop their own voice. And what, you may ask, is a voice: it is a sound, a resonance, evoking a writer; a style of expression; an expressive tone; a means, a method, a manner of addressing the reader; a way of presenting a narrative that a reader can associate with one writer. Buried within any work is the voice of a writer.
I recently went in search of a pencil sharpener, a new tool for my pencil case; the overriding requirement, that it not take up much space. I have developed an interest in books about writing, on theories of and explorations in the logic of narrative and sentence construction, in the analysis of structure. I consume texts filled with gnostic doctrines of this science, pencil at the ready. The resale value of these books is small, there is little interest for these outside a scholarly world; in these dense texts, my consumption is noted by pencil-marks in the margins.
Even now, I hesitate to defend it: truth will take you out and leave you in the world unprotected. Instead of setting you free, the truth leaves you exposed. Before you can recognise truth, you’ll be overwhelmed by human weakness: bitterness, envy, obstinacy, rigidity, doubt. And you will not be thanked: there are so many ways that people can avoid the truth. Telling truth to unbelievers and they will counter with every category of lie: they’ll use avoidance and ignore you; they’ll punish you for being right. The line of truth is the row in front of a firing squad.
This is the day, the very day, and if not the target hour, if in the turmoil of activity, the anticipated and forecast hour has passed, time is a false measure as the continuum of life rolls forward, in full flight, and events and movements pull and push, and the following actions streaming into the continuity lag, constrained only by metronomic and chronometric registers. The flow is fast and strong, in-filling this day with serial, sequential and concurrent endeavours and achievements. Only the most cynical could fail to see that the tipping point has passed and progress is increasing exponentially.
I’m sitting in front the library stacks crammed with architecture books when a lecture finishes and dozens of students pour in from many directions. In this honeycomb of shelves, in the aisles, students mill and shuffle, their heads tilted, some with arms weighted down by books they have found, and others who glance though flicking pages and moving back and forwards. In architecture they have heavy books, large books filled with colour prints and plates; the pages are luxurious, weighty. As the pages are turned the sound is like rich cream being poured, the pooling of honey in the sun.
An assignment exercise is to recognise five key actions or events in history that have determined my path in life. Events can be chosen from the distant past, before I existed, or from within my lifetime. I need to make an argument for relevance, for history being instrumental in shaping who I am, for this constructed me to exist in this place and time and have the life I live. Delving into history, I find I am more acted on than actor: I resist history. Where are the examples of me going willingly, pleased to go where history pushes me?
‘Are you really sure you want to do that?’
The tone was placid, unthreatening, without imperative. This must be the only option left for the instruction guide; I’d ignored previous suggestions. There was with this warning the implied assumption that I didn’t know what I was doing. My actions were against the instructions; the guide, sensing my actions, stated that if I plugged that connection into that port, the machine would not work as designed and might be destroyed. They were right if I’d wanted to use this as a pencil sharpener, but I had a different use in mind.
The hour will be validated when consumed by activities. Measuring value has always been contentious, there are many opinions on what makes value and yet at times the seconds that comprise a moment, or moments that make up an hour or a day, are so compacted and embedded with events and action, that the emotions cannot be contained and these are what we remember and it is to the memory of times like these that value adheres to the detriment of reflective times when we washed dishes, hung out washing, or waited patiently for someone to return, something to happen.
Life as documentary #8:
I have recently noticed an increase in the amount of time I have for reflection; those opportunities to demonstrate patience, to consider the human condition, and observe where I fit in the universe. This morning, for instance, for an early morning meeting set up by a friend who hadn’t responded to messages in three years, I arrived was time and she late, pleading a last-minute optometrist appointment. And, I ask myself, does the universe need this much analysis? She did pick up the bill but, in exchange for the half hour I wasted, I felt short-changed.
To a recent podcast where the discussion was about happiness; well it was about a book just released where the author talked about 52 tools to use to increase happiness and contentment, to reduce stress in daily life; I listened because the talk was there in my MP3 player, and I was on a long commute where I have time to listen for an hour, and I have room for improvement. If the old information, about what irritates and where irritant can be removed to improve one’s life, was not new, at least it was presented logically and seemed constructive.
‘I don’t want to have this conversation.’
We'd arrived at the same time, I held the door open for her. The last we'd meet it had been crazily busy and we’d waved at each other before moving apart.
‘Is there anything more to say?’ I asked, not that I knew what she was talking about. Given our history, I put on a sympathetic face and moved slowly, trying to not frighten any wild horses that might have entered the room with us. ‘You obviously have some headspace discussion going on. Just tell me sometime what it is we’re fighting about.’
I couldn’t have been as effective without my colleagues. They are here tonight. If turn around, you’ll see them sitting together at the back of the room. Their companionship comforts me; their proximity alone has seen me through many hard times. Each person has strengths they are called on to exercise frequently. And they are resourceful. But, I think it is the weaknesses, those traits that make us most human, these are what bond us together most strongly. With all the knowledge and experience we hold, in our line of work, our humanity is where we find the fatal flaw.’
‘… She wonders how it ever got this crazy …’
The music is not new, yet this audience is new and maybe that’s why I hear it again. Maybe there is a retro-revival, or maybe it is just that people like the music but don’t listen to the words. I’m not so good on bands, I had to google the website Genius Lyrics to find it is from “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles. For me a point-in-time song from a world filled with pressure and the anger of young men consumed with envy. For young people now, I don’t know.
I would like to draw your attention to how the reanimated word, redundancy has exposed a dichotomy in our thinking. Technical redundancy, defined as the development of ‘fail-safe’ systems, subverts the standard usage of redundancy, making it an aspirational goal. An increased level of technical redundancy gives security and abundance, adding value. In any other context, high redundancy seems born of unsustainable growth and is perceived as wasteful. And waste seems profligate; it triggers the reassertion of parsimonious values and ethics, the withdrawal of investment in human capital. Do we only trust technology with the privilege of surfeits?
Tradesmen here to install new windows and replace the crumbling front door found paper wasps flying in and out of holes in the brick grouting around the door. This entrance is rarely used and the nest has grown up unnoticed to become a mature colony. In other years hives have been built externally, hanging off the eves around the house, and removed easily. This time, burrowed into the fabric of the house, the wasps are aggressively defending their territory: one tradesman has been stung on the neck and wasps are swarming and darting around attacking. The workmen are in retreat.
The evidence of experience #9:
Storage seems to be the next exercise in home improvements now that the fabric of the house (doors, window, roof, walls, services) have been brought up to standard, and there can never be enough places to store things. I have given up on ever having enough bookcases, that is a long-term goal, the more immediate plan is to find places for suitcases, equipment, surplus tools and ephemera, and things used infrequently that currently clutter passageways, cupboard and wardrobes. Having places to store objects that are still useful will help me find what can be recycled.
How can this statement not cause public outrage: What you measure is what you treasure? The jingle-esque statement with its homophonic rhyme is an affront to reason. What you can measure are concrete and discrete items, solid objects and their sets or ranges, the nominal, things that can be named and counted, and when added up these encompass a small fraction of our reality. We hold these itemised and tangible objects yet are so much more: the invisible universes of sentiment and emotion, sensation and perception, sentience. The qualities we value most that identify us as human, we cannot quantify.
Ahead is a warm sunny weekend, both days filled to the edges with unscheduled lengths and swaths of time I don’t have to parcel up, or apportion, or assess and spend wisely. And there is no guilt, no-one is here to disapprove or criticise how it is used. There are things to do, the routine maintenance and support systems monitoring, but this spare time reaches out to me. I feel time has relaxed and the drive to the future, the imperatives of progress, can be shelved, temporarily. This is found space, outside of time. I feel untrammelled, light as air.
A reward was established, a prize, for the first person who could design and build a perpetual motion machine. That was all. The money came from several physicists, funded through their estates, as one after the other they died having failed to solve this problem. When the venture was advertised, questions poured in from around the world and swamped the oversight committee who made the decision to outsource management of the administration of this prize, making sure the committee retained the task of judging the works submitted. The number of applicants exceeded all expectations; everyone wanted this venture to succeed.
There is no extant data, in time we will all be edited and redacted, summarised and rejected. How will your life appear in 1000 years if, by some chance, an archaeologist retrieved your room, your space, or your writing and had to piece you together from the evidence found? What do your objects, your artefacts, your remains say about you? In most cases, you would just confirm the finder’s belief that you live in a time of barbarity and gross immorality, but aside from all that social squeamishness, how would you shape up when looked at from the distant future?
I have been distracted recently by random words and phrases that lift my attention out of what I am concentrating on so that I leave behind something difficult I am trying to grapple with. A form of displacement anxiety, my guess. One expression was ‘a mess of trout’. I took this to be a collective noun but on analysis found it to be an idiomatic expression not related to trout. Its usage: you can make “a mess of” something, or you can observe “a mess of [objects]”. Both expressions, of entanglement and disorder, disclose the speaker’s agitated state of mind.
‘Have I ever told you of the time I was nearly killed by a magpie?’ I said.
She’d looked at me. She looked for a long moment, filled with significance and judgement before she went back to reading her magazine and I’d felt a connection, a flow of electricity between us. It’s always in the eyes where the connection is made, and there I saw the drama of my life and death flapping around like a trout out of water.
‘Is it something I said,’ I asked.
‘You don’t need to talk,’ she said. ‘The doctor will be out shortly.’
You feel it when you’ve passed the first barrier. There is a moment, an instance, when everything changes and you can almost hear what they are thinking as they move in slow motion and you accelerate past. Your momentum has you so wrapped up, cocooned and protected, that any sense you might have of a different perception or interpretation evaporates. What was complicated and difficult until now stretches out straight ahead. The clarity of your view is profound. Rising out of gravity has given you a sense of fearlessness, of infallibility. You see no end. You have shed your mortality.
The Tip Jar