REPORT A PROBLEM
On the resolution of balance #4:
Thermodynamics, the processes that conflate into the term entropy, the study of the working properties of energy, must be freed from the emotional rhetoric we wrap them in. If ever there was a time, it is now that we must address the states and properties of matter, how the composition and proximity of these, added to variability in temperature and pressure, constantly seek to achieve a balanced state, an equilibrium. Watching as these repellent and attractive forces act upon each other, unentangled by feelings, reveals what choices there are, and how life remains possible.
I would like to list common euphemisms that draw about, dance with, and sometimes entirely avoid the central ideas of genocidal death and destruction: disperse, purify, bleach, contain, control, save, eradicate, expunge, cauterise, sacrifice. Words are endless and becoming more frequently heard in these times when there are shortages of supply and growth in demand for services that will maintain health and extend life. Pay attention to how words are used to populate the metaphors that respond to our grief for those we love who die in this season when nightly we hear totals and statistics of mortality.
There are zic-zaks everywhere – adjustments and intrusions that shift focus and interrupt normal life. No sooner has a rhythm started, growing into a momentum that sustains regular life, when waves from unexpected directions knock off course routine and habit. I don’t say this lightly, and it isn’t a criticism, but these chaotic influences come from people who normally would move carefully and who now careen around not caring or noticing the disruption they leave behind. So, I move to the eddies and still waters and let these busy and important people noisily pass on to their busy and important lives.
‘What we need is some momentum to shift out of this gully. Give me a hand to move some rubble, then we can rock the chassis. If we can get the wheels out of these ruts, we might have a chance.’
‘Give me a moment. I’m a bit banged up. I can help you shift and push but you’ll have to bind me up. I think my shoulder’s bruised. I can’t move it.’
‘You must bend and bounce. The last thing you want are broken bones. That stop dinted us good, but nothing looks broken. Seems we’re in luck today.’
Why is it that in unusual times people don’t pick themselves up and work more effectively but instead they demand in every interaction to cry on your shoulder. Unless and until you have acknowledged how overworked and stressed out they are, nothing will get done. And then, when you have given in and listened to their woes, they are heroic about struggling. Even though this is the same challenge everyone has to cope with until finally, they tell you it’s someone else’s job to do what I am asking, that they can’t help and they have to transfer my call.
Life as documentary #23:
The death of a poet, even when they leave behind a prestigious body of work, is an immeasurable loss. Last week Bruce Dawes died, reminding us how his poems gave us the right words in difficult times. What we lost is a voice that says what we want to say, that tells us what we need to know. Poems act as mirrors, showing us our best and worst selves, making us see how we could live and poets in their craft do the heavy lifting, creating culture, by putting into words the unspoken, bringing us home.
Words escape me, running away as I approach when normally they cluster around jumping and sparking against each other to draw my attention. I look and see them scatter like wilful children who run looking back, laughing. When I get close, they dodge and again elude me, chanting in singsong tones, evading my attempts to gather them together. I want to thread words into strings and knit them into webs of meaning. For all their disobedience, there is airiness in this flight that opens up wide spaces where light drifts in. My webs only shape shadows that congeal and solidify.
Feet are useful when attached to the human body: when working in a co-ordinated way with leg muscles, feet make it possible for humans to jump and to move laterally and vertically. And the percussive properties of feet connecting to surfaces give us an opportunity, through speed and rhythm, to express how we are feeling. We appreciate feet by making various forms of apparel for comfort and protection. And what we wear, expresses our personalities: the pattern and colour of socks chosen can indicate the mood of a wearer as they step out and engage with the world.
We ignore the subtle aging of buildings, even when these are urgent signs of a building’s collapse. We don’t quail when subsidence alters the alignment of walls; or when cracks appear at the corners of doorframes and windows that then wander up and across plasterboard or zigzag between bricks. Creaking floors possibly pinpoint a beam losing a footing and slowly sinking, or gaps gradually widen between the slats where a wall has pulled away. We notice, eventually, the explosions as the forces of gravity take over and the cohesive properties of mortar give way and structural features crack and fall.
She obscured the title of the book as she paced across the lectern, only occasionally a word could be deciphered. She mostly held the book to her chest with an arm wrapped across the cover and a hand gripping the spine. When she quoted from it or turned to point to the images on the screen, her grip changed revealing more. Why I thought reading the title was important is unclear, I could get a link to the online reference from the shared audio version. But books were rarely seen now, and this was a leather-covered edition with some age.
The evidence of experience #22:
What do I know? Experience is a devalued commodity in this era of new knowledge. After all, I have experienced and all I have made happen and achieved, I am suffering from a lack of relevance. Life has suddenly turned around and noticed me only to remind me that I have no power and nothing I might call my own has been original. Whatever is important now, all that is modern is built from the components of what existed before, yet we forget. I forgot that everything I created only changed and modifies existing knowledge.
After being warned, on reflection, and who hasn’t had time to reflect, I see I was agitated and behaved erratically. I reacted, driven by an instinct to escape. I wanted to avoid or keep in front of what was, as we see now, inevitable. What I did wasn’t illegal; many others did the same, no doubt driven by panic, as I was. But just because everyone was doing it, doesn’t make it right. I am still anxious but my focus has changed: I ask first if my actions are selfish, if they will harm others, if I can do better.
She had written it; that was her handwriting, but those weren’t her words or her opinions, and she wouldn’t have forgotten. She just wouldn’t have said this. The world felt very cold at the moment with everyone looking at her. But however this happened, she was the victim here. Protesting would only make her look more guilty and she didn’t know why this was happening, or why she had been chosen to carry the blame. None of this made sense. She had to do something, but and defending herself without discrediting the evidence would just reinforce what everyone was thinking.
I can hear guttural voices and spades rasping in gravel over one fence; over the other, the screaming of young children was about to reach a climax. The parenting strategy there seems to be to tire the children out with frenetic outdoor activity until they become angry and fractious and then to let them back into the house. I miss the previous occupant, a nurse, who was quiet. She sold to a builder who extended and renovated making next door into a modern family home. Both my neighbours are in the throughs of self-improvement and both burdened by heavy mortgages.
His fingers wandered through pages, flicking rapidly until a picture captured his attention then, with his fingers moving slowly down the page, he read the ingredients and steps in a recipe. Disappointed again, he turned to the index to follow another idea. So, what’s on the menu today? So far, soups had been passed over as being too dull and deserts, while several had been seriously considered, were now ignored. His appetite wanted something substantial and he looked for a recipe that both piqued his interest and required only the ingredients at hand. Finding nothing, his patience was wearing thin.
His was a specialist skill, one that gave him powers, not unlike the Wizard of Oz, he sometimes thought. Aa a writer, he produced work that was sought after, his reputation was solid, but what he did was difficult to define: his words segued lists of facts and hooked people’s attention. This was a found place, a niche that provided both invisibility and a voice. His words were remembered more often than the heavy details they carried. It was intended that his words were generic props, but he believed he provided the content and the solid facts where only backstops.
The latest heart-warming cliché is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Any analysis of numbers has reasonable people questioning this prediction. And why are we are travelling towards the light? Surely that level of optimism is salt to our wounds; we all know the headlights could also be from a train racing towards us. Just because things are bad now does not mean they have to get better soon. Having hope does not mean that the end of the crisis draws near. Let me wallow in this despair, it makes me work harder to survive.
Life as documentary #24:
Trying to understand why towels dried hard in the open air is one area of research that arrived at the proposition that there may be different types of water. Proving this possibility has the potential to break my understanding of reality, yet it is science constantly testing and retesting categories and redefining physical properties that is the basis of knowledge. That is how Pluto lost its planetary status. Science can change definitions, produce more granular understandings of properties, and re-write how we see the world. Interpreting evidence on Mars has also proposed two types of water.
I want to consider the contribution that words of motion make to stories and how they actively engage readers. Directional words are prompts to physical actions and as we read, they pick us up, turn us, move us about, often pulling us away from the narrative direction onto unseen paths and detours. Phrases like ‘forward to’, ‘backwards from’, ‘up ahead’ and ‘down below’, can make us into puppets but they can be there simply for misdirection. We can be convinced that what came before has passed, that we have escaped unchanged, even as we blindly run towards disaster.
We all can access within us and express a range of personality types; even the most introverted can let loose occasionally and party without restraint. These traits are a bit like the weather: each morning we look outside and dress appropriately. With personality, there is a tendency for leakage when we can be overwhelmed by personalities around us, both negatively and positively. My greatest dreads, my worst fear is being destabilized by these attractive or reactive influences and this is why my social connections are superficial, temporary and transitory. I prefer a light shower to a drenching or a tornado.
I have been reading about procrastination, always a bad sign, but just one indication that I am deferring some task, delaying making a decision, kicking stones down a dusty road that goes nowhere. The article lies open on my computer’s browser, waiting for me to read it. It is the reason I can’t close my computer when I tidy up and get ready for tomorrow. This example of my procrastination is not a fait accompli. All I need to do is read the article and find that it tells me nothing I don’t already know and I can move past.
Queues to all the checkouts stretched down the aisles. The self-checkout, the one she wanted, was the longest but most people held baskets, not laden trolleys. The line shuffled past the sweets, turned a corner, moving past cereals, long-life milks and tinned fruits. She found a spot marked ‘stand here’ at the end; the markers put there to ensure the personal space of shoppers at busy times. This slowly moving line strangers distressed her. ‘I can do this,’ she told herself. ‘I can act as though this is a normal, that like everyone else I know what I am doing.’
A small pot of daffodils keeps me company. We sit here companionably, listening to news programs and the programs discussing recent events, neither expressing an opinion or casting judgement on what is being broadcast. We are moving comfortably though time. There are lots of buds open, each flower open-mouthed as if gulping a long breath, and more pushing up. I think this pot will endure and that is a comforting thought in these days where survival is the objective. Time silently passes us by. We are guided by experts and sit here unmoved, quietly and alert; out of harm’s way.
Think in other categories. Not an original suggestion, not my own – tool for broadening thinking must be attributed to Richard Condon –is a skill to acquire, a mechanism to enable thinkers to step outside the propaganda, the manipulations and persuasions designed to trigger reactive behaviours, and write their own narratives. Then we get into the dilemma of not thinking of elephants. With practice, we can direct our thinking so the elephant can leave the room, but don’t underestimate the difficulty. This task reminds me of the joke. How you hide elephants in a strawberry patch? You paint their toenails red.
Strange how procrastination truly shows me backlit in my immobility, cast like a shadow caught against a wall. The longer I stay unmoving and anxious, the more the situation seems permanent. Inaction reduces me to a two-dimensions; I feel flattened by the light that shines down, pinning me to the spot, that leaches me the will to move. And the irony is that I am both the cause and means to the solution: only I can fix this problem. One movement in any direction and this hiatus will unlock; one action will precipitate the next step to set me free.
Reading about wave generation, I found the word fetch. For surface waves, and there are other wave types that form in the world’s oceans, the wind blowing across water start ripples that can grow into waves. The formula that calculates a wave’s height uses time and the fetch - the distance over which the wind blows as the momentum increases. The image I have is of the wind reaching a hand down to the sea and, in a petting or stroking motion, drawing waves along until they run into peaks and are throw themselves forward to crash on the shore.
When last did I write a letter? And emails don’t count. The last time I travelled I came home with my bag littered with unsent postcards purchased at interesting places. Postcards are mainly about the picture, the message on the back must be short, and to strangers, sound obscure, like coded messages or secrets. Letters are not run off in the fragments of time grabbed from everyday life, they are crafted, considered and considerate exchanges, often verbose, each word chosen at leisure and edited to present a polished voice. Now I have surplus time, I have no-one to write to?
I am investigating how to add a new word to the dictionary and my found, but illegitimate word is unanthologized. Unanthologized defines work by an author not yet been collected into an anthology. With the invention of the internet, authors can list their entire output, published and unpublished, and the unanthologized works, like lost sheep, can be herded back into the flock. Widely used in the internet, in context, on vanity websites established by authors this word has not registered on the radar of dictionaries, yet it validates the shorter writings, essays, stories and poems, waiting for recognition.
‘It used to be a nice thing to do, having people around to dinner. We don’t invite anyone in now and all anyone talks about is germs and contagion. I want the anticipation, the shopping, getting the house ready, cooking, and everyone arriving happy.’
‘Send a postcard with the recipe and a picture. Tell them what you are cooking.’
‘That’s it: a postcard party. Exactly what we need. We all cook the same thing and have a virtual dinner party. But who’d bring the dessert, the wine?’
‘Yes, every guest with a whole bottle of wine might be a risk.’
Making an effort seems only to result in me digging my heels in or worse, it sends me running in completely the wrong direction. I have been reading a lot, random papers, emails, miscellanea, not having an interest or engaging with any of it. I nearly finished this month’s book club book even though it felt like wading through piles of dusty newspapers, I was still making the effort. The more I read about the Australian Suffragettes, the less interest I had in these events and characters. It was a different world then. Maybe I don’t value my enfranchisement enough.
The Tip Jar