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On the resolution of balance #3:
My sorrow is that seeking novelty and entertainment seem to be the drivers, the motivating actions that take me to interesting places. I have missed the boat; what I should be motivated by is my passions, my own will, and not by exterior triggers and prompts promising rewards. This is the dilemma between the wish to calm the inner child and the need to enable the self-directed adult I intend to be. There is unlikely to be a balance here: it is a contest. The winner must overcome and make subservient the losing self.
Amazing what even a day’s grace permits. Re-reading and editing, days after writing, seems to insert a vast eternity; many rotations of the moon, the earth, the sun, the universe, have happened between that time and now, bringing into existence a gulf that separates me from my past selves. Now I have room to move, to refactor unpolished thoughts. In this quantum shift I can clearly see what ideas have bubbled up or others that need to be dredged for, that must be uninterred from the mind’s moraine, to be revealed whole. Variance in time’s plane exposes shades of intent.
I lived in a narrow house on two floors when my son was young and we found the vertical planes we moved on, came to determine how we lived. The stairs were steep, with the bedrooms and bathroom above, living space, kitchen and laundry on the ground floor. Before long I learned to maximise my journeys between floors, stacking washed and ironed clothes at the foot of the stairs to pick up as I ascended and gathering washing for return trips. Toys flowed effortlessly downstairs. Regularly I defied gravity, running upstairs with armfuls of toys to hold back this tide.
There are actions that are only done, objects that are in place, only to make life easier. Adhering to the momentum these actions and objects impose becomes habitual. These habits simplify life so that we don’t feel the grinding and rubbing to smooth the transitions between moments, making it possible for time to glide effortlessly onwards, unnoticed. Yet, when an action becomes redundant, an object is removed, our habits are so ingrained that we continue without noticing. At times have I looked back to the circuitous path travelled, only to find clear and unimpeded line-of-sight back to where I started.
I would like to consider the usage of “said” and “spoken”. Said is more than what is verbalised; it can be understood as the action in communication by deaf and dumb people, between people not sharing a common language, even between creatures of a different species, although that might be drawing a long bow. Spoken, on the other hand, while including intonation, speed of delivery, timbre is more limiting and is mainly about what is understood in the language used. A more formal word, spoken is used to expose social and political disparity, tensions, heightened drama and differences.
Restless energy gathers, like darkening clouds foreshadowing a storm. Teasing tangles of energy erupt in frissions running across my skin, sparking, sending shooting pains that evaporate and leave me wondering if I imagine this. I procrastinate, focussing instead on these phantom events, vengefully willing them on. My fingers itch to scratch my scalp; my limbs want to stretch to the point of cramping; I arch my back to the crack point, rotate my head hearing my neck joints crackle. If I could start then the end when I can sleep would be closer. My will resists the force of necessity.
Conveying through body language the opposite of what is spoken is one strategy for promoting discord and confusion. You must pick your situations carefully but even then, there may be unintended consequences: signals in different cultures can be read differently. I have found that if you personalise the message, a more nuanced control can be asserted. Of course, if the recipient is hoping for one signal and finds it, instinct can drive their response and they might overlook or ignore any restraining countersigns. Immediately amplifying the alternate signal can repel unwanted advances, thereby reasserting the required state of inert confusion.
In society’s mores and conventions, are hidden areas of discrete discrimination. Those who self-select as belonging to a social group assume that their fellows adhere to common rules of behaviour. Rules within groups are there to indicate future behaviour; they give a baseline for how people are expected to respond or react, to reach the future goal where the greatest good for society is achieved. But, inside any society, there are layers and partitions of advantage that muddy the water. Selfishly, one group might make malicious ripples and eddies to displace, reject, repel others, thereby acquiring more assets, or power.
He gives a little latitude, licences small indiscretions here and there that seem cute, and realises too late that he has been drawn along a longitude he cannot navigate. Pulled out of alignment, his judgement is no longer reliable. He has taken his eye off the horizon and knows he is being played, that he is not the player. And all for what: his ego, his need to be liked, to feel useful, to have her look up at him and smile? What you have to do these days for a smile is unconscionable; it has weakened and unravelled him.
What carries no collateral, cannot be taken to the bank, yet binds her securely, catches her, has planted her feet in the ground as if roots were growing out of her soles? It was just words thrown out in a fit of spite, molten hot. She knows he lashes out when cornered and there is no reason to trust or think this is real. Maybe he already regrets saying it, but it is said now. He has lashed her and she feels life leaking out from the wound he has carved. What he said changes everything; it has remade her.
This must be how we invented time, and now we are trapped here with the eternal ticking, like the trickling of water released from a hidden spring. And with this movement, music could not have been far behind. When we have time, a pause, a missed step, jolts us out of the rhythm and seen from above we can measure life behind and put forward a view of what it will be like ahead. Binding the vision together, to create a constant stream of moments, we have the music of our lives all underlaid with the metronomic ticking of clocks.
Life as documentary #22:
Habits, those based on learned or practised routines, are internalised so we don’t register when they run: they control us, making life rigid and inflexible. The sense of progress, routines running along planned paths, generate future patterns we expect to find. These paths, with their eclipses and elides, places us in the centre, each pulling the focus towards ourselves. Without habits, would we still need time? I know I take half an hour in the morning to get ready. If I hurry and wash and dress quickly, I fear a missed step, leaving the day incomplete.
This is the season of death. Nightly we hear reports of the body count, of limited medical resources, of those infected and suffering, and the likelihood of spread even to ourselves of this plague-like ague that might be stalled but will not be stopped. And the news is intrusive but irresistible: late at night all other programs pale in comparison and I watch re-runs of programs offering advice and details of procedural measures, all of which rely for effectiveness on social distancing. Of those within my social network, from choice, I am the most socially isolated, yet I fear contagion.
A measured life: the only truthful epitaph for a life little lived. This life evidenced moments like droplets condensed and evaporated, the kind that leaves crusty circles on polished and glass surfaces as if they were relics of tears, metaphors for feelings and emotion. And where, in this little life that stretched out like a thin trail of snot blown in the wind, does purpose reside? Is it inevitable that in the final analysis when our history is written, when our faults are overlooked and our achievements ignored, that we become refuse, detritus, dust and entropy sweeps everything before it?
There was no movement perceived in daily life but here was physical evidence of slipping, where the earth’s brittle crust underneath the sidewalk had shifted across multiple axes. The result now a much-admired work of art, demonstrating to the savant how art influences our interpretations of reality and makes it possible for us to be attentive to changes formed when planetary time stretches out. In this backwater, an eruption had blocked access. What presented initially as an increasing risk, causing pedestrians to stumble, changed. People now came to view the relief, the angles and planes, that cast them into shadow.
Poppy knew Kata’s mind took her to strange places but she made others believe in these future worlds too. The way she talked about them, they seemed possible even as they floated in air.
‘Different sounds, how they jostle and spark against each other,’ Kata said. ‘We can invent a new script.’
Hammering and sawing at standard forms, or using wrenches to pull apart, hammers to nail together, strips of words constructs heavy pages of language that only approximate to what we want said. What Kata proposed was a flowing language, sticky with meaning, and Emma felt herself pulled in.
Socks – I have a complicated relationship with my socks. I treat them well but I am always fussing about, washing, fixing, folding, sorting, and when I think we have become shaped to each other’s needs, that we have bonded, they get holes or the elastic loosens and they slip and stretch gradually over the day inching of my feet even when wearing shoes. One sock with a hole breaks a partnership: I purchase the same colour and style of socks and re-partner divorced pairs. Old and dysfunctional socks serve to polish shoes; they are fit for little else.
I sense I am not as mentally agile as I remember being in the past. Through disengagement, even due to laziness, I find early writings are littered with errors that I later pick up on and each mistake found causes me to think my professional capability is diminishing and the perceived decrease in ability carries with it an increase in anxiety, a nervousness, as if my judgement is febrile, riddled with emotion, always seeking confirmation before I commit. It might be a seasonal thing, but these behaviours expose a nascent risk: once habitual, my self-doubt might be difficult to shift.
‘From the packages allocated, what has been submitted and signed off shows a lack of depth and understanding. You must move on; be agile. There have been changes in the dailies that aren’t reflected in new submissions.’
We were face-to-face, virtually, each sitting in front of a computer physically located somewhere else in the world. That does make the metaphor of being worlds apart slightly perfunctory but it’s clear where this is heading.
‘It is critical that you review and amend all contributions. You are sent edited and compiled dailies for a reason. These must inform all work in progress.’
We will not have any of this: not now, not later, never. This approach, this path, is blocked and any attempt to push through will cause you harm. Looking lost and forlorn will not change this fact; looking helpless will not gain you favours. What you did previously, you cannot do again. And, when you consider your options, think of this do-over as a gift: it is a lesson without consequences. As long as you make better choices, choices that take you in a different direction and don’t land you back here asking me to forgive you, you might live.
‘It won’t work. Nothing’s working.’
Pacing the room made her feel that the walls were getting closer together. The room was the length of her single bed with space at the end only there so the door could open. When she walked from the window to the door, turned and walked back, with each turn she felt she might bump into herself. The ceiling was high and the room light, but so narrow, and narrowed more where the desk and wardrobe stood together.
‘Maybe it’s the same mistake and I can’t see it. Garbage in, garbage out, over and over.’
The evidence of experience #21:
There is little I need to retain a sense of normality: an open and accessible library is one thing. Today I drove to the library – that was a rare indulgence, normally I catch the bus – and the library was closed, temporarily. We keep hearing these days of ‘the new normal’ and each time someone says it my son expresses his annoyance, remarkably like how an overfilled kettle erupts when it boils. I understand his frustration but I also believe normal is being redefined. This season of virus, self-isolation and social distancing will leave us changed.
Another meeting wading into and over the dailies. Not different to any meeting run last week and no change expected in the weeks to come. We were churning through ideas as if ripping garments off hangers in a thrift shop only to discard them as new bright shiny prints were exposed. ‘What we need is a catchy theme. We all need to start singing from the same song sheet.’ Last week’s good ideas had been shredded and hacked apart. The voice had exposed our nerves - our weaknesses, errors, and glitches - and now they wanted us to hum along?
Cordoned with my fellow travellers, together we start on a journey into a fictional wilderness. This is our working methodology: we are driven by what is not wanted, what is rejected, what is criticised and found wanting, towards a destination that is evolving. Set adrift, we have to find a path in this chaos using only oblique signs to guide us using only signs that point to the many wrong choices we could take we pass carcasses of our failed attempts. With time racing towards us, we tentatively make our way to where all parallel lines converge in the distance.
It was the eye, that bright shiny glint that gave him away. By taking on a submissive pose he wanted me to see defeat and capitulation. I saw the fallen shoulders, his lowered head, the downturned mouth, yet I wasn’t convinced. No matter how listlessly he shuffled his feet or drew his hands penitently behind his back, he seemed insincere. He already had what he wanted; this was a cruel cartoon of regret. With his head turned to one side he looked up, he watched expectantly, waiting for me to back down, waiting for me to forgive this latest transgression.
Punishment is a conflicted engagement: on the surface, the power balance is not always evident. To not punish is a dangerous choice. All leniency achieves is to reinforce the belief that rules are discretionary and that they can be waived, even flouted, with impunity. Leniency widens the grey area of licence, choices expand, and personal responsibility shrinks. When rules are accidentally or deliberately ignored for personal benefit, the line that holds normalcy in place is crossed and what was established becomes unstable and fragile and the conditions and assumptions that support a normal life start to fail, benefitting no-one.
I don’t agree with leniency but I certainly don’t want to punish. These aren’t my rules; they seem officious and unenforceable. Anyone who knows me, knows that where evidence confirms a rule promotes social good, I comply. While my behaviour is contained within socially acceptable tramlines, I have a very laisse-faire approach: I don’t expect everyone to do as I do; I let anyone do whatever they want, I leave others to their own mistakes. And I don’t understand why the job of upholding the rules has landed in my lap. Maybe everyone just stepped away, leaving me in charge.
This is a cliché, that with the viral pandemic we have a new normal. Living in historic times is a curse; there are few opportunities here. Changes we must make are not for self-improvements, or corrections to adjust bad habits, we are redefining essential skills to survive, to have the possibility of seeing another sunset, a season, a year. Everything previously design to protect us, fails; the institutions we trusted for security are ripped from us. Daily, life and death decisions have to be made with no certainty we are making the right choices, or planning for our best future.
Closing down the conference call was like stepping out of the sun into cold water. The glow of the screen warmed, my hands on the keyboard rested in the light and the computer on my lap was warm and comforting. When the session ended and the light faded, I felt I was alone. That is not to say the meeting wasn’t stressful: it was. I was anxious and sweating throughout, actively resisting the desire to jump up and move about the room. Now, all I felt was the cooling on my skin, even the sweat running down my neck chilled.
‘And this is only for completed work.’
‘Work that has finished being edited and has reached a final state is complete.’
‘I don’t think I have read anything I have written, ever, without wanting to change it more. This is too high a bar. I will hesitate before the final step, make changes, leave it aside, rinse and repeat.’
‘There is lots of advice on finishing: one suggestion is that when you reach the point when you are satisfied with the work and it is has finished changing, only to allow yourself to reduce and tighten the structure.’
We aren’t there yet. What you see now, all that can be seen is a façade and that is what we are laughing about. But we are getting there; I can feel the current quickening. Soon no-one will be able to deny or avoid the truth and the painted pretty pictures, the false narratives treaded together to give power to different factions, will disintegrate. The speed of information being exchanged has to ramp up, multiple sources of data exposed before all the facts can be revealed. Then social responsibility will be returned to the populace, and politics made representational again.
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