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On the movement of static things #6:
Ignorance presents us with a static universe. We don’t see change in what surrounds us – in the water we swim in, the air we breathe, our world is eternal and filled with elements and objects that have long arcs of change. These components are so common and familiar we ignore their existence. We step to the left, missing a puddle no longer there; following a course around where once a tree grew; we orient by an axis towards a pleasure once felt, take a path previously chosen, as if by habit, without thinking.
What happens when perpetual actions stop?
Perpetual motion is a myth perpetrated by a belief in ideal states, and in this belief of perfection, the universe confounds us on all fronts. Theories have been proposed on what would happen if the earth stopped spinning; if one day something happened that interrupted the daily, yearly, sidereal spinning cycles which we revolve. But that is the wrong question: what we should be asking is why we spin at all, what makes us spin. Unable to imagine another state, the answer we spin ourselves is that we spin because we have always spun.
Where do you turn to find the romance the morning after you had the sweet sensation of that heat that the chills, the enervating thrills, the frisson down the spine reminding you of ice cubes clinking and rattling in glasses sticky with alcohol and smeared fingerprints, where the liquid splattered with lees rose inside the bowl and the blurry marks of sticky fingers and mouths gummed around the outside. Is there any pleasure here? You can’t remember as your thick head outweighs your neck and your tired eyes settle on the dirt and grime of unwashed plates and uneaten food.
Where would I be without self-doubt: my constant companion, my one true and unwavering friend. He Is the friend I cannot reject who, alone among those I know, only talks to me. Why I think of self-doubt as a gendered male entity is of some concern, but from our history he has always kept me from harm, kept me from being reviled and abused by the outside world, and he has pushed me to continue. He looks at my work critically. He questions my assumptions and asks the big question - whether this work is good enough. And I listen.
I would like to draw your attention to how an inappropriate vocabulary can result in lost friendships, or bring parties to bear arms against each other, or lead to long term enmity and feuds that persist across generations. Thesauruses will provide collections of words, lists of words related in meaning, yet the difference of intent between these loosely-coupled words can shift meanings along power hierarchies, or denote class distinctions, or align parties behind barricades with banners flying above. The power of adjectives to disturb and disrupt is legendary. We avoid these staunch and steadfast weapons at our risk.
Assaulted by the simplicity of the day, I resist this false truth where the smell of sap and grass erupts and is carried from the damp garden as the sun rises. A metallic ticking of sprinklers invades my privacy as they spin and spurt, and wet the path, making me mis-step. Surrounded here by the call and response of birds, the wheeling and crying of magpie larks defending their nests, their rising cries echoing off the surrounding buildings, I recall the pre-dawn chugging and grunting calls of currawongs waking, and the snap and struggle in the undergrowth where predators lurk.
There is value in having more than a single self. After all, we can call them, our better selves or our mothering self, instantaneously, on demand, to resolve many situations. There’re huge risks in having only the one. What if solitary egg of yourself breaks, what could you do? Where then would you put your soul?
We need lots of options and the strength of choice is found in a multi-self. These variations are who we can be. We can see ourselves now, and who we want to be in the future. We can be all things to all people.
‘Have them drinking coffee or playing canasta. They need to walk, talk; do things. How do they interact?’ She paused, waiting for his response.
‘I’ve never been good at card games; all those complicated rules.’
They both paused here.
A dismissal, she thought, then discarded her doubt. His tone wasn’t helpful, but self-deprecation was acknowledgement if nothing else. Maybe this was a small step forward. There were still major hurdles ahead, but no reason to stop now.
‘You could think of playing cards as a metaphor.’ ‘My life is a metaphor for life: everything seems to be about something else.’
Advice seems simple: you either agree with it or you don’t. If you agree with a suggestion, you can do something differently, make a change, or you can smile and carry on and no permanent harm is done. When you don’t agree, then complications follow. The wrong advice can disrupt your life, break your concentration, your momentum, your trajectory. It can ruin everything. Following bad advice is a path littered with lost friends, broken families and, through dislodgement and displacement from the world, to social isolation. I don’t get given a lot of suggestions; mostly though, I don’t give advice.
Try to regroup, this mightn’t be as bad as you think. If all you do is tag along doggedly, how can you demonstrate that you are resolute and unswerving, that you can be trusted and relied upon? You see them there, staunchly facing forwards with their hands holding their banners high and weapons at the ready, and it is impossible to believe you could be among them leading the charge. Has life beaten you down, held you back, made you so obedient that you cower and retreat? You can stand up; you can raise your voice. Where is your resolve?
‘Light your beacon, Aaron.’
‘Let it rain, let it rain.’ We tuned into the message thread; bent by atmospheric strata it lay buried in cosmic static, and heard a voice that might have come from the edge of the universe.
When the music stopped Aaron’s spoke, his voice rusty and dry. ‘Come save us,’ he said. ‘We’re dying.’
‘Aaron, can you hear me? Your transmission is breaking up. You’re in bad reception. Please relocate higher and transmit your location.’
‘There is no future here. I am the last.’
‘We’ve mapped your location. Sending down a team; raining down our love.’
Life as documentary #9:
Beauty is a socially constructed concept and one that all societies around the world praise and value. That it is socially constructed is seen by the varied and contrasting features different societies have to determine are beautiful. For all the variation, a common denominator is that societies give power and privilege to those people or objects deemed to be beautiful. Beauty is selective, it must be unique and not available to all. In defining what is beauty you must be able to separate out those who don’t rise to the elected standard and who don’t conform.
‘Are you still working on that?’ he asked.
‘I’m not, but it could’ve been better.’
‘There’s no perfect essay, you know that. What they want is a functional, complex argument that hangs together. And you did that.’
‘But I didn’t answer the question. I woke up today and saw where I went wrong, what I missed.’
‘You didn’t go wrong.’ he said. ‘They liked it.’
‘This has destroyed me. I dreamt I was speaking at my graduation, droning on. And what I said was that I learned to present an argument, find supporting data, references appropriately, etc. It’s not enough.’
I suppose the role of children is to make parents crazy, getting upset about it doesn’t make it go away. Maybe I am more sensitive, maybe I got out of the habit of ignoring things, letting them drift over me, that’s all. He got off track for a bit, and then I could talk to him. We shared news, he smiled, we talk about how crazy the world was and laugh. These days the most I can expect is a grunt as he tilts away showing me a shoulder and crouches closer to his phone, speakers trailing from his ears.
There are five or six standing together, waiting to cross and yet when they move it is in concert as if one animal prowls before me. Their beauty is disturbing; worn casually, as though thrown on with clean sweatshirts or collected at the door as they step into the open. And a shared smile, untouched by feelings, they express neither joy nor happiness. A curdled smile, held too long, on faces that hold a pose, behind which they sweat and wilt. The sweet odour of privilege drifts with them, overlaying the bitter rancour of sweat. They're blooming with cultural decay.
Nothing exists outside this group: there is no sound, we see and hear nothing, no warm or cold. There is no light or darkness, we exist in an opaque space, levitating and spinning slowly. We stand close together and scan outwards, each with one shoulder towards the middle and the other pointing out, lowered and angular, our arms hanging down and ready to protect ourselves. Our postures defensive, we wait for what is coming. In our circled front, we show our willingness to defend ourselves. We can be damaged, we are made of fragile material, safe only in our unity.
I have been thinking about qualities that make glasses so attractive and keep coming back to transparency. When glass is heated it becomes liquid and can be poured and shaped, yet as a formed and cool object it holds liquids. Glass is tactile and visually attractive. Tapping the edge of a glass produces a resonance that is a signal to halt conversations, a call for silence; a prelude to a speech, it introduces ceremony. Through a glass, you can see what is held inside and the transparency of glass exposes this world in a true or distorted form.
As I regained consciousness nothing seemed familiar: I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, nor remember where I was, or how I got here. I was ascending, struggling, trying to release my limbs from entrapments, to free and separate myself from what held me, from what was wrapped about and smothering my actions. My hearing was restored before vision in this gloom. In my anxious state, the rumbling and crashing seemed actively generated and violent, reminding me of large objects colliding, I sensed I was being pulled through a dense medium, moving closer to the source of these sounds.
When my eyes open, I cannot focus: there is too much light, it blinds me. I absorb the light and my senses erupt in pain and distress. My breath shortens, my stomach aches as though bound in tightening bands and I feel nauseous. I feel hot yet chills rage up and down through me. I am disorientated and incapacitated. I want to block out the light and escape to a safe place, yet there is nowhere to turn to be released. The light infiltrates everything and overwhelms me, obscuring all vision it obliterates space. There is only pain to endure.
Why do the spangling notes played on a harpsichord remind me of aluminium foil ground between the back teeth, connecting my fillings and sending electric charges into my teeth, setting my nerves jangling, and the metal in my mouth tasting so redolent of blood? My distaste is not with the measured and tempered harmonies, the flights of stringed instruments Bach orchestrates. Of all the instruments, it is the flat-fingered notes of the harpsichord that fumble beneath the melodies, like unsprung petticoats that bounce and jaunt out of step in a shiver of lace and flummery, that brings forth my ire.
And there he is, my internal critic, the twin of self-doubt. Between them, these twins squeeze out my voice, they flatten and shred my thoughts, they leave me with nothing to say.
‘You must be joking,’ says one, snorting with derision.
‘When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you,’ says the other.
They never disagree with each other, I am always the brunt of the criticism. If I disagree with one, then I have two voices to contend with, to defend myself against.
‘You take this very personally,’ I say.
‘You’re making us look bad,’ they say together.
The evidence of experience #10: Present in a pedestrian world I observe patterns as they repeat, each pattern revealing the flow and circularity of life around me. If ‘time is a flat circle’ then I move outside time: I am on the boundaries, repelled and attracted by time’s momentum. I bound off this flat edge, I carom in angled paths, until the energy dissipates and stability is achieved where I merge with the flow of my fellow travellers and we walk together in concert, along the same path, collectively we each arrive at the final place in our own time.
A luminous day: sunshine bounced off choppy water, more sunlight gleamed and danced in the leaves fluttering and shivering above. The autumn colour is turning the trees golden, the canopy shedding leaves like golden dollars. I know it is cold outside: I was cold waiting for the library to open and sat with hands in pockets, hunched over, sweatshirt zipped up, and my nose running. The sunlight is deceptive, it gives the promise of warmth in its glare, my eyes were squinting as the early sun shone directly on me, yet my extremities became chilled as I sat there unmoving.
I want to say I am running out of ideas, but that is not it. I’m thinking slower today; my brain moving from one idea to the next without friction; there’s no spark, no energy. I breathe lightly, barely containing a yawn, in this library where all desks are filled.
Sounds emanate from the phone of the elderly Asian lady before me, moderated through a mechanical filter, seemingly without edges or borders, undefined, a stream without gaps or pauses, lustreless with suppressed tones and low affect, a language without the building blocks I recognise, and she replies lyrically, smiling broadly.
A day of weather and just the trees and I are enjoying the buffering and displacement. People scurry past keeping close to buildings or sprint across the courtyard making their escape. I wait as the wind careens: it snakes about, making full use to open space, and gleans from cracks and crevasses lost leaves and particles, throwing these treasures about wildly. Wind seems to increase the volume that space fills: pulling around space, making the outside larger and wider. Fixed objects are thrown about, exposed, damaged if they resist. And people, they wrap up tightly, hunch shoulders and run inside.
‘Having started I should just go on. After all, I can’t take back what I said. This isn’t anything I haven’t done before.’
Where have you been all my life, I was thinking as I walked over. You can’t say that now; it just sounds predatory and creepy and that wasn’t the first impression I wanted her to have.
‘What can I get you,’ I asked.
She hadn’t thought anyone was about and jumped when I spoke.
‘You took your time,’ she said tossing back her hair. She smoothed down her skirt and smiled, unsure how long I’d been there.
To see if she was there inside, sitting at the bar, he had to go close to the window and shield his eyes with his hands. It was dark and there weren’t many people moving about. She was easy to spot and had not seen him looking in. He felt good about that. He didn’t want to appear nervous when he introduced himself.
‘It had to be her,’ he thought, ‘who else would be all dressed up and waiting.’
Sweating inside his jacket, his arms and legs felt cold. His palms were damp and he rubbed them down his leg.
It is dread. Having retrieved a name for this feeling, the persistent anxiety and fear, the flooding sense of danger washing over me, I need to push it aside. It is time to think, to observe and process the information available and move. The symptoms of nausea and sweating are still here pushed into the background, the headache is still freezing my brain. Waking up disorientated and the light seems to have started this episode, but even now nothing seemed familiar. My mind has nothing to hold onto and I can’t seem to shake myself to action. I can’t move.
Dread arrives and with it, demons; creatures who erupt from every unresolved shadow and shape. They must always have existed: omniscient, omnipresent, becoming the reason for every pressure and pain, every alteration in space. They fill the void in my brain carved out by doubt. And there are many that pass through me, that press down on me, malicious and violent, inflicting damage. They do me harm and I know of nothing I did to provoke this. I have fallen here where they smell the dread and despair of their prey. They weigh upon my soul, drinking deeply of it.
In the glare of hindsight, I could see only the pitiless dilution of a soul buried within this man. Everything hung about his frame and he walked as did everyone else, but there was no substance, there was not one thing about him that marked him as an individual. Someone had taken out his personality, or he had suppressed it deliberately, or maybe he was just mindless and without hope and had given up. His look of surprise at everything I said meant that conversation was not possible: my words sunk into him as into a deep, sunless, bottomless well.
The nexus of power, money and social class show a view of life that is hard to ignore. Buried in the assumptions of this model are cause-and-effect interactions and other mechanisms associated with market forces. Many cogs and levers are here that can be manipulated to raise the temperature, or reduce it, and control and channel movement in predetermined directions. This model of the world system is persuasive, yet while not infallible or complete the attractive and coveted features of power, money and social class manipulated us: even those holding the controls are trapped in the flow unable to escape.
The Tip Jar