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On the movement of static things #7:
We assume everything changes as we do, that the universe changes along our timelines and in the same way as we change. This anthropomorphic interpretation of how universal forces work is childlike. If all we see is filtered through the lens of all we know, and we continue to believe the universe centres around us, then we are resisting knowledge, becoming fossils, rejecting life, choosing ignorance. We move in tidal waves of change, that moves in timeframes both vast and sub-atomic, that have forced us to invent infinity to conceive of their possibility.
I would like to draw your attention to how interpretations of metaphors using ‘steam’ are altering. In the phrase, ‘under your own steam’, a speaker might intend to describe a self-sufficient person, moving independently, who is not driven by others. When the derivation of this term is recalled, it harks back to steam engines and incorporates qualities of inflexibility, of fixed movement, and an inability to change, deflect or be halted easily. In a steam-punk world rigidity and inflexibility might be valuable characteristic; in modern contexts, where survival requires agility and flexibility, ‘steaming along’ carries negative connotations.
Without evidence of threat, my fear immobilised me: I couldn’t choose a direction to move in or an action to take. I can only describe this place as mythic, unworldly. I cannot explain what I saw: there was light but no heat; some barely seen movements in the shadows but no sense purpose or direction to these changes. I shivered when my skin felt variations in temperature and twitched when sensing a movement towards and around me yet I wasn’t touched. The beings, if that is what they were, had as much solidity as the light itself, they were insubstantial.
Soliloquy, the act of talking while or as if alone, is a recognised dramatic device for theatre. It is also found in life, evidenced by people no-one wants to listen to and who we don’t want to hear. Quite often these people will start their rambling, getting louder and louder the more they are ignored. There is performance here too: if seated they gesture as if on stage; if standing they will pace about in front of people causing an obstruction where they can. The more overt the behaviour, the more we dismiss them as mad, the less we hear.
‘How can you make a story from what is essentially a portrait? You say so much, yet it’s all based on what you see.’ ‘I think about, if I looked and dressed like her, what would I do next, then tell the story of how she got here, how she knows that person.’ ‘But it’s how she looks you use. That doesn’t tell you her past history or her future.’ ‘Women put what they want you to know on the surface. They learn early in life to be what others want them to be. That’s what they are rewarded for.’
Life as documentary 10: Watching people, a selfish activity, is my favourite spectator sport. I choose who in the vicinity to focus on, and my interest may be sparked by one feature or any action, and then I sit pretending to be disinterested and write about them. This morning there was a woman seated on the far side of the cafe, her partner obscured by a column and my interest was wakened by how still she was. I sensed she was not there, that she had taken herself elsewhere, out of the melee of the markets where we sat, untouchable.
‘Steaming along?’ he asked.
‘Much the same, thank you.’
We stood there damply in the rising mist, waiting for the ferry coming in. The foghorn had been sounding since it turned past the headlands but we still couldn’t see it. The lapping of ripples around the pilings had increased, the wash meant the ferry wasn’t far away.
‘Off to the mainland today?’ he asked.
‘Just waiting for a friend,’ I replied.
‘Not many visitors this time of year.’
The conversation had gone as far as it could. John turned and walked along the dock, ready to catch the mooring lines.
My favourite pen is running out and I am using it infrequently to husband the scarce resource of the remaining ink. But I have accepted that its life will end soon. This made me think about how emotionally attached I am to inanimate objects, at least those I use often. I have strong connections to pens because I need them when I work with paper to write and record my thoughts. Pens are a direct link to my thoughts, the fear being that without a writing instrument, my mind would be silent and have no-one to talk to.
The air is breathable now that the sun has descended and taken away the heat. There is shade in this valley resting between the buildings and a faint breeze blows from the doorway behind me, though and past and around all the columns and passages, around tunnels and lattice stairwells, carrying clear and unbreathed air with it. Most people have drifted away following time to other more populated places; only two tables of talkers remain. And I sit here quietly typing and watching the peck and hop of the starlings as they collect crumbs unimpeded by legs and agitating bodies.
I was ready for the talk when I came down, only to find I had arrived an hour early. Knowing I have tasks to work on, writing and reading, that would take me longer than an hour, I have waited and worked diligently, ticking off deferred and delayed work, recalling and picking up partially finished threads of ideas. It has been satisfying to have evidence to show how my time has been spent. Now, closer to the time, I no longer have the patience to sit through the event. It is as if all my good intentions have been expended.
The evidence of experience #11:
The purpose of conversation is not to exchange information or to engage in deep and meaningful discussions: conversations are social glue. It is in conversation that social conventions and norms are established, hierarchies are constructed, and bonds between people form. The exchange can present a point-of-view, a world view, but it will only be a model, non-threatening, that can be adapted and re-formed. No-one is going to draw arms in a conversation, everything can be laughed off. Just talking we can be polite; we don’t need to draw blood. We leave that for another time.
Another assignment finished and they always leave me with the scratching of doubt. I followed the instructions, kept to the word limits for all the components, and ended up two hundred words short. I don’t know, maybe they couldn’t count and calculated the total wrong, or gave some room for slippage. When I went back to review what I had written, I found I had nothing left to say. So, my gift to the assessor is the two hundred words I held back: a gift in the true spirit as I expect no return for it, no recognition, no reward.
Here I wait for a spark to flare or the temperature of my blood to rise. There is nothing: no challenge to overcome, or riddle to unravel and supper is already cooked. Today we eat leftovers, quite tasty and they will satisfy, but I lack and cannot think for what. This is when I should polish my shoes, sew that fallen button back on, iron a few shirts and start to get ready for when everything speeds up again when all I will be thinking about is how not to breath in the dust from the wheels spinning around me.
‘It must’ve been a dream.’
I’d stopped listening weeks ago. I don’t think she noticed. Most people just carried on as if she wasn’t there, so this was business as usual for her. But there was something tonight that had got under my skin. It wasn’t in what she was saying, the same old problems from all I could tell, but something in her tone, something I wasn’t hearing maybe, that pulled my attention.
‘Ten more minutes and we can stop.’
She was paying for my time; I was just here to make sure she trained and didn’t slack off.
‘How hasn’t he been fired?’
‘Don’t know,’ she said. ‘There is something he does that helps, maybe. You don’t see it, but if he wasn’t here, maybe we wouldn’t have any reason to talk.’
‘You’re so soft; he’s dead weight. I could do this project easier and faster without him.’ This had to be said, but she’d made me think. ‘Is this all we talk about?’
‘Tim makes me laugh. I like having him here.’
‘That didn’t answer my question. Do we have anything else in common? What else do we talk about? Maybe both of you are just reboots.’
The last 10 kilometres felt as though it was all downhill, that I’d coasted into town on a tailwind. Standing with cold muscles, everything tight and tense and sore in that dark morning, in the cold, it was hard. What carried us on was the knowledge that we were going home, that we could be home that night, and we would be finished. At 7am as we checked our bikes, in the pre-dawn light, as we shuffled about to warm up and grumbled, we were already imagining the last turn into the main road and the crowd waiting there.
‘Lipstick, I think. She kept going mumbling about “… not too much fuchsia, not too much raspberry, not too much magenta …” and I lost track.’
‘It was a mono-tonal rant, wasn’t it?’
‘There is always that image of her with a painted scar across her face that is unforgettable.’
‘We’re being bitchy now, that was from a book. I never did learn about makeup, but if I wore it now, it would feel artificial, like warpaint.’
‘I'm maybe feeling a twinge of envy. I couldn’t work out how not to get lipstick on my teeth and just gave up.’
Life as documentary #11:
Writing a site journal, an exercise designed to document a place, was set up for me to draw attention to and experience a specific location multiple times, to observe actions and events taking place and, stripping away preconceptions, to write how this felt. Yet, while I was on site, I frequently fell into reveries and long digressions into my historical associations there, recalling buildings that had been removed, people I had met or travelled with though that place, past events and lessons learned. A sense of being present was strangely absent when I re-read my notes.
I would like to draw your attention to how ‘option’ is a word we all use when called to explain our behaviours as it drags with it the assumption of choice and logical decision making. In reality, most of us behave instinctually, relying on what we have been taught, how we behaved in the past, all the choices made are to enhance our own self-image and self-esteem. On the news recently a policeman said that his decision to shoot was instinctive, based on his training. For him, there were no options, yet it was a point of decision.
Reporting change within myself from self-observation appears to be a focus I haven’t practised using. I introspect, review and critique, observe and can talk animatedly on external issues and my own opinions, but I am running blind: I do not see how within me change happens due to external circumstances, in partitioned contexts, invisibly. The lens of my previous positions versus my current views is not measured or acknowledged and belatedly I see, therein lies my blind-spot. Change to my values and beliefs happens expediently, selfishly, without my actively choosing, allowing me to not take responsibility for my previous behaviours.
‘I like to think I’m in control and that I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me that that isn’t right now.’
He moved closer as he spoke until all I saw were his grey eyeballs threaded with red lines, the broken veins on his skin, and blackheads in his pores. His breath smelled of backed up drains, metallic and sour, almost briny, hinting of bad digestion or a poor diet, probably both. I was facing a man in a body that was about to experience a critical failure. I needed him to back off, calm down and keep breathing.
The menace was ominous: clearly he was threatening me, but everything called it out as bravado. He hadn’t the strength to back up his statements. I could ask them to restrain him; I could sedate him and just get the procedure done. Either option would make me an enemy for life and I hadn’t the time to manage that risk going forward. If I saved his life under like that he wouldn’t thank me; if we got him through this crisis without his consent, he’d just go back to his old habits and then it wouldn’t be only my problem.
‘Hi, Joe. We need to check your blood pressure. How are you feeling today?’ I saw confusion in his eyes and he blinked as the machine wrapped around his arm and started to hiss.
I don’t know why we ask people how they are feeling; it would be much more honest to ask them if they know how I would like them to feel: people always want to tell me what they think I want to hear. Maybe they want me to be happy, or maybe if they guess right, that I will let them get out of here sooner.
Before rounds the nurses move around the ward, opening and closing curtains, straighten beds and tidying up and talk to the patients, making sure that anyone sleeping is awake before the doctors arrive.
‘Hey, Doc,’ he said. ‘I’m only taking the painkillers because I’m still here. If you let me home, I wouldn’t need this stuff. I’d be fine.’
‘The procedure went well, Joe’ I said. ‘We need to monitor you a bit longer before we can let you out. Do you have anyone at home who can look after you?’
‘I’ve Molly, my dog; she misses me,’ Joe said.
‘Men and their cats. That is all I need to say – no description or explanation is necessary.’
‘But let me respond with – women and their clothes. What is this obsession with clothes?’
‘True, but at least there is a working principle behind clothes. They make us look and feel good. All I know about cats is that they will smother you and eat you when you die.’
‘My cat loves me. And women dress to impress other women. It is a power play.’
‘Have you seen women’s clothes? They are instruments of torture; fashion has nothing to do with pleasure.’
When they spoke together, when they talked of the information we had given them, we saw recognition light up their faces. Watching the news spread was like following a chain reaction, lit of opportunity. Before long one or two split off from their group and moved to spread the news to others. Even groups who self-segregated, who kept to themselves, knew something important was happening and wanted to be involved. Barriers were lowered allowing everyone to hear and question and they wouldn’t go back up again. The power of this idea had spontaneously ignited cooperation between these previously feuding parties.
Are you conscious of dreaming or are you awake in a dream? These are two very different states, yet an observer cannot tell one from the other. If you are asleep and know you are dreaming, then you know what you see or feel or do is an illusion and unreal. If you are awake in a dream, then the dream is in control, and you may be disorientated but cannot get out. Unconsciously dreaming you can be convinced that black is white or that up is down and these become the laws of the universe an cannot be altered.
‘Ah, poetry. The joys of sitting in a room with people who rhyme bum with thumb and think they’re clever.’
‘You’re such a cynic. It’s a wonder you get up in the morning.’
‘I’d love to stay and chat, but time flies and flies linger.’
‘Give my regards to your mom. I need to remind you that it is the end of the month and you need to settle your bill.’
‘Just hold off for a bit and I’ll get back to you. I've a small cash flow problem.’
‘Your problem is that there's no more credit until you settle.’
Slept late and woke thinking about writing a story. I like the way stories write themselves, this doesn’t work the same as reading, stories grow from the inside. I have to dig inside my floating thoughts and find threads to pull, linking ideas, stringing phrases that can be moved about. This hasn’t happened for a while, the more recent pattern has been to wake up tired, clogged with distressing and unfathomable dreams, wanting only to fall into a book and read the day away in hibernation, shielded from the world, cocooned in a bubble of someone else’s peopled story world.
Having given up coffee, albeit temporarily, my reasons to get up each day have dissipated, evaporated into space, and when I wake they have escaped me entirely and I reach for a book and start reading, even as my eyes try and adjust to the ever-shrinking blur of print. My will to live shrinks as the level of caffeine flowing through my veins reduces and what invades my spirit now is an alternate drive, one that negates my will further: I seek hibernation. Switching off the influences and messages from the world, I want to stop and settle into inactivity.
The Tip Jar