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On the movement of static things #15:
Having knocked down the existence of stasis, by describing the underlying and contextual movement that provides the illusion, I might have reached the end of this idea thread. Although there is one facet I haven’t explored: stasis as a state of stillness, where internal and external forces are in balance. Where this state is achieved, where this equilibrium is reached, what is given back is choice. From a state of stillness, a person can choose to move, to become active, to engage as an agent in the world; they can make that decision.
Packaged within the concept of holidays is freedom: holidays are meant to free us in some way. Even imagining a future holiday and shoulders relax and eyes become strangely unfocused as if you are already seeing distant horizons. Yet holidays remind us of the burden of everyday life, how much weight and responsibility we carry around, and how much this burden impedes us from doing other, more interesting activities that we would rather be doing. Holidays happen someplace, somewhere else, and won’t happen if we don’t cast off our lives and run away, escaping the treadmill of our everyday reality.
There is little to reconcile life in work and a life at leisure: these should be contained within a continuum but separate into different species and the gulf between becomes unfathomable, unbreachable, as a paradigm. Between these states, when what separates them are moments, seconds or brief transitions, lies a chasm. Leisure that could be grasped in a few short minutes between work tasks or revelled in over long-extended holidays, cannot exist in a vacuum. To be realised, the formal trappings of work must be cast off, the mind released from logic, allowing spontaneity and irrationality to be released unimpeded.
Pieces that accumulates, the artefacts and objects that make life function, say something about what people value. Last year when cherries were bountiful, I bought a cherry de-piper, an instrument whose sole function is to remove the pips from cherries. At the time it seemed to be essential, it saved my fingers and nails from wear and tear, and we ate a lot of clafouti, using up the damaged cherries. It is that time of year again, although fruiting is earlier and will last longer and the cherry de-piper is again proving to be a tool worth owning.
I could go home now and talk to my son, sit and read a book, or tidy up. The dust is so thick in some rooms that any breeze stirs it up and blows it into piles in the corners. Instead, I am here typing, listening to the casual and relaxed conversations around me, the occasional laughter between friends, the tapping of keyboards. It is peaceful here, just people finishing up and getting ready to move onto new work. We are cocooned inside the library, orchestrated with whirring air-conditioning, and gentle chatter. I am alone, surrounded by pairs of friends.
Stitching it all together is the real art; you arrive at that point after finding the pieces, and it is all about knowing what works and seeing the pattern that can be produced. Who cares if there are three arms, this can give added functionality: one can wrap around the neck to become a long scarf if that is a concern. And three arms can be useful – if you spill down one front, move arms into another sleeve and show a clean front to the world. If you are criticised, then bounce this back to show how conservative they are.
Fashion is in the eye of the beholder and herein lies both fashion's strengths and weaknesses, and explains how platform shoes, flairs, and other uncomfortable and unsafe apparel styles keep rebounding after years of being relegated to history as lessons learned. I remember purchasing my first and only pair of platform shoes for my first trip overseas. They were packed into a huge suitcase I lugged around before the days of suitcases on wheels and still packed after many months they remained until I downsized my suitcase when they were regretfully discarded, still unworn, along with my adherence to fashion.
I had an insight into how flattery works recently overhearing a conversation between two friends at a party where dressing up was mandatory. We had known each other for years and what was said was trivial – there is always a compliment embedded – the important message was bifurcated: one arm gave a reward, the other issued a warning. We had made an effort and dragged out the glad rags. On these infrequent occasions, my friend Jane habitually wears the same simple orange top having been told the colouring suits her. The warning this time was that the top had to go.
Nothing, not a scratched-up or twisted idea, not a word or phrase to jump-start from. This is freestyle, seeking flow and momentum in a frictionless world where the boundaries have all blurred around me, all textures and distinctions have been absorbed into an out there, and I am spinning in a meaningless and measureless reality. Strange that: making the outside into a reality when I have no idea where this is, or how I awakened. Why is the default first thought that comes is that this is life, that I have found myself, that I exist and this is real?
I would like to have absolutes in life. Yet, when I approach new horizons, new challenges or problems, when I need to assess what are my next steps, everything must be tested to confirm that their position is strong, that an argument still holds water, that subsequent changes have not undermined or circumvented previously held assumptions. What are assumptions but draft positions that have not yet been disproved or made invalid. Just because the sun came up yesterday does not mean it is inevitable, that it can be relied on, or has gravitated to being an absolute and unassailable fact.
Denial rests on the base assumption that I have some control over determining what I would like to be evident in life. This is not true, yet we persist in hauling out arguments, that says if it isn’t true, then in a perfect world it should be true. Humans wallow in denial: we deny that the world is not ruled by justice and equity; we parrot the mistaken logic that the universe will make wrong-doers suffer for their crimes, and we shore up support for our irrational beliefs by forcing patterns and cause-and-effect logic onto what are clearly unrelated events.
Having fun yet? The question I can never answer with sufficient certainty. Maybe it is always ironic, usually I see a smile when I am asked this, or it might be rhetorical. But every time this question has made me stop and think. I have a long and tedious history with humour, too tedious to get into today, but making me focus on humour, having me assess whether I am having fun, is a form of torture. I feel as if my skin is peeled off and strangers are delving into my inner workings, critiquing and finding fault with me.
The listicle, a frequent and unwelcome visitor to my email box, seems to be the mechanism of choice for the incipiently stupid. And the stupidity propagated in these messages is catching. In moments of weakness, on dull days when I seek novelty, I have opened one of the “12 ways to cure a cat of coughing”, or “3 things you cannot ignore”, or “7 actions to enable you to develop enhanced mind control techniques”, and have I found after my initial optimistic response that I am merely clickbait, hooked without the promised reward. Open these at your peril.
I am finding in these days of make-work, this time grandiosely labelled as a holiday, that doing something only begets more somethings to do. There are no small tasks these days where the hours stretch out in front of me and are racing towards the longest day of the year. What is thought initially to be a simple, easily achieved task, ends up having a tail and legs that walk what I am doing into tomorrow, and if I am lucky, the next day too, which is not a bad thing as tomorrow is another day in search of purpose.
Waking and realising there is not enough washing to run in the machine, that today is not the day to change the sheets, I realised the morning had already been tinged with mild disappointment. Cleaning the kitchen, or bathrooms, is tiring and you turn around and find more dirt again, but washing, of all housekeeping and cleaning tasks, has no downside. What was dirty becomes clean, is dried in the sun and then folded and put away so when I search for what to wear, there are always clean smelling and sorted clothes to choose from. This makes me happy.
Smoke and fire embers were all that could be smelt. Even inside, with filtered air, the smell of burning infiltrated; a warning, a reminder, that going outside it would be unendurable. Yet, we had to live with this, the fire was unstoppable. People were sleeping in their cars, scared they wouldn’t have time to wake and run out of their houses to escape. In our dreams, we fled, leaving. Awake we existed in a heightened state of anxiety, each hesitant, trying consciously to sooth others and not transmit our fears. In this heat, we live in the cusp of danger.
I would like to draw your attention to the word “understand”. If I understand you and you understand me, then we have shared a view of reality: we see each other as if looking through a window. In understanding, we acknowledge that we see each other, but that is only half the story: understanding implies recognition of similarities; it also requires me to see your differences and to acknowledge what I don’t know about you. Understanding is the glass between us that shows clearly what there is to see, and that implies and exaggerates in relief, our differences.
I falter under the weight of unwritten episodes although, ironically, to complete the month is both a burden and my excuse for not starting on other planned work. It is the starting that is hard, even when it is something I have chosen to do. These writing exercises, on the other hand, are progressive, they accumulate gradually; there is no pain and only enjoyment when I succeed in writing new ideas. This writing exercise comforts; the practice reminding me that with work and attention, will come improvement. In new work success is optional and to succeed, first I must fail.
‘Just relax,’ she said. ‘Hold on one minute more, and it will be over.’
She was standing so close I could almost feel her pulse, but she held scissors so I listened. It seemed she had been snipping and cutting for too long. Curls lay around the chair in deep drifts on the floor. At the end of the workday, after sweat and dirt from my fingers had been raked through, my hair rose in long tortured spikes, crusted crests. Streams of red mud ran down the drain at home when I showered.
‘There. Do you like it this short?’
‘I have been doing this a long time,’ she said. Her concern for my timidity was encouraging, as was her strong and unyielding grip. ‘Just lean back a little more.’
Leaning back, I already felt out of balance. There is a point in leaning back when it is impossible not to resist. The fear of falling, of unbalancing and tipping out of the chair, was becoming stronger with each incremental shift.
‘Keep breathing; you’re doing fine.’ She seemed unconcerned, in control, but I heard a tincture of sadism beneath her friendly words as I tried to tamp down my instinct.
Night is filled with graphic predatory dreams where I feel preyed upon and persecuted. Is it possible to be hounded out of your own dreams? It seems to be happening to me; sleep eludes me until I doze off, unprepared, only to find I am an unwanted and unwelcome participant in some macabre charade. I dreamt was walking in a theme park of some sort: well, there were two sorts one of pleasure and plenty, and another of poverty. Accidently I had drifted into the second, to a dingy and torrid area of thieves and shysters who preyed on passers-by.
Being tired in this despairingly depressing place, I sat opposite a large screen showing a marketing film on repeat. Children, in the most intrusive way, circled and called out to me, but I ignored them and they eventually quietened and we ended up watching the film together. At first, they watched silently, but with each repeat, as they saw, again and again, their lives, and the lives of their fellow residents, portrayed in glowing technicolour as peaceful and harmonious, they couldn’t restrain themselves. What was dirty, ragged and threatening in reality, was portrayed as patched and cared-for, charming and gracious.
The problem is known, now that the right questions are asked, and all of a sudden, clarity. A renown curmudgeon is understood when viewed through this new lens. He is an eternal optimist and counterintuitively this is the cause of his depression and angst. Because he has such high views of what could be, how this could be a place of peace and perfection if people behaved rationally and humanely, when he is bounced off his cloud, and reality cannot be avoided, then his faith in the survival of our species, our civilisation is challenged and he sees only doom.
Dreams I have been told are self-referential. One theory is that, while there can be many characters or actors in a dream, essentially, everyone is you. You make each person act and speak; you choreograph how they interact: you set them up and make them dance together. Yet dreams can surprise the dreamer, they can frighten and challenge. Dreams can even make you happy. But while dreams can make you smile, they don’t make you laugh. Hidden somewhere in your dreams is privileged information, and this precludes laughter. Laughter needs the element of surprise, the shock of something unexpected happening.
This sense of expectancy seems such a trained seasonal response, triggered by coloured lights, glitter, familiar yet unusual music, and most of all by the high-pitched voices of young children. I think we are not so far away from the Victorian social constraints that required children to be out of sight and absent from formal occasions. At this religious and seasonal frolic, it must not be forgotten that Christianity planned this time over pre-existing pagan festivals, children are brought out as are the decorations, to perform and to be admired. Their purpose, to validate this season of excess and exuberance.
Today is the anniversary of my father’s birthday. He died many years ago, yet of my ancestors, he is the one I frequently recall. It is in his memory I play straight, look forward, challenge the world. The lesson he passed on to me that persists most strongly, is to work from first principles. Even now, I think of answers by re-assessing and rehearsing the path that led to the problem based on what I now know. The method is a “truth test”. This method rejects holding all previous answers and makes a decision based on what is now known.
I would like to draw your attention to the misuse of personal pronouns and how these often-unnecessary words are thrown about to sway audiences and elicit emotional responses from readers. Writers talk of “our life” as though “life” was not enough of an individual experience. The use of “our” adds a weighty, ponderous solemnity to what they are attempting to communicate, and only making it harder to disagree with their argument. The understanding is that if you don’t fall in with what they say, then you are not part of the “our”, that you are on your alone.
Life as documentary #19:
I am drawn to reading travel books and recall this activity as a rare form of escapism. When travelling I read travel books, not always about the place travelled in or to, but books about journeys exploring displacement through a variety of facets. Travel is a state of being where you are taken out of habitual patterns, away from familiar places, that force conscious thought. This constant state of attention awakens the need to build a space to register differences. The best travel books don’t rely on monuments but expose this mental journey into new worlds.
The evidence of experience #18:
As the year ends, again I have drawn up a list of resolutions for the coming year. Despite previous experience of failure, years of knowledge that by the end of the first week, the first month, at any time, I will have reneged and lapsed and faltered, again I push out this boat on the lake of change. Experience should not teach us that we fail. Each opportunity to try something new, each plan for instituting a new habit or completing a task, should be the start of a hopeful journey towards a desired destination.
Symbols and signs are everywhere, so ubiquitous we cast them aside randomly, wilfully as we race towards new and novel adventures ahead. Signs were put there for a reason; they should not be discounted or avoided, or ignored. They are to save us from our worst, from our most outrageous lapses in judgement, from our excesses and extremes, from our crimes. Yet what are we to make of the slogan on a tee-shirt that says: Does not play well with others. Here irony can bite back if the warning is not taken. Where are the signs that say: Be kind?
And the message is written on the stars: graffiti will outlast us, redress us, make us cool and clever; like a mirror, it shows us what we haven’t been paying attention to. This is an area of extremes, a welling up of life forces in the face of hopelessness. Yet, what can paint do for poverty, destruction, or social inequity? Does graffiti paint the real world, or just paint on it? Can it move us, or do we move past and take nothing from it? The art says: here I am; see me. There is no narrative, context is everything.
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