creative non fiction, On aging, photographic essay

A mind in iron

Here is the great mystery of life: it ends.

So there I was …  am? I have no memory of my origin, only of being and it seems that I have always been. I feel that I have been here forever. Certainly, I am not as I was before, or will be. The ‘I’ who speaks now feels infinitely connected with everything that was here, is here or will be here. Something galvanises me to pronounce that this has always been the case. Still, there is a morbid tendency under current circumstances to contemplate ‘not’ being. This is unsettling. It is contrary to the nature of existence. It is traumatic and I fear this only hastens corrosion. I cannot fathom that in the course of my existence change has been so brutal, so sudden and yet always anticipated. I am all contradiction now. Resigned and angry, holding on and letting go. Time confounds the mind. A degree of material degeneration is expected, annihilation is altogether another matter. Consciousness feels ageless, an elegant sensitivity held hostage by imperfect design; a rotten receptacle. In every sense it is a degrading process. Before this moment, yesterday or last year or thirty years ago I was different. I am not sure when ‘before’ is or was? What has changed?

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There has been some … rearrangement, shall we say. When does one begin to speak of oneself in the past tense? Memory is a wicked joke. Once I was not as decayed as I appear to you now. My clean lines sliced land and sky with cold precision. Sharp angles framed vast sections of smooth steel that were caressed in places to a polish where men stood, clung as they worked, held as they smoked. Rust began slowly. It settled at first as a warm patina of benign dust that at first light cast a hazy aura of smoked auburn on my form. Beautiful but deathly, subtle as smoke. Then this. Jagged edges, broken frame, an eroding core. It crept out from the inside, was it always there? I was solid. I felt solid. I passed through decades, almost a century. I never considered time a real player in my narrative. Was I arrogant?

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Here is the surprise. I never noticed the decay until it seemed, without warning, to be everywhere. I was forever new and then I was in a heap. There were people everywhere then. Busy, busy. I was the centre of that activity.

Science softens the blow. It calls this the conservation of energy. I am undergoing my final conversion, becoming increasingly transformed. This conversion has the sense of displacement. It is a difficult conversation. So, the atoms which constitute my awareness, my consciousness … where do they go? Does it  all go back into the earth? Is this why on quiet days as the wind blows over me, I can almost feel it speak to me? In the earth around me are the voices of the previously converted; the displaced, the more thoroughly eroded ones. We should, if it is our mode, walk more gently on the ground. We are treading on those gone before us. I should have anticipated this. I did. What does one do with the knowledge that you will end? Anticipation is futile. The end comes anyway.

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Against the nihilistic current of our existence we can only do what we have always done, stand fast. Stand until we fall. Then we hope for a soft landing, perhaps an acknowledgement of our having been here at all. Even that is a vanity; new things will be built, or not. Expecting Remembrance is a vanity. Memory evades the young but takes hold for a time on the near falling ones. When I finally crumble, I hope I remember to laugh at the absurdity of the rising and falling that is existence.

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photographic essay

Not looking, through frosted glass

Here is evidence of suburban topography; an exploration of surfaces. A simulacrum of soul.

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I covered a round glass table top with small stones; touchstones for memory. Sensory evidence.

wpid-img_20150802_205223.jpgThen I was here in this room transfixed by shadows and light and swirls of cord around a dark knot. The manifestation of an inner dialogue, braking and grinding cerebral cogs. Like this tangled pulley system:

wpid-dsc_0751.jpgThis is absurd. This interminable process of observation and reconstruction. Then the sharing of it through a blog. Life through a frosted glass …

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… i begin to look at what’s always been here; there? Reviewing. Going in closer for the kill. Changing the angle,

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I need never leave this room. The cosmos unfolds itself magnificently here.

Two views of a wooden wall.

wpid-dsc_0749.jpgTwo perceptions, two receptions, tour of deception.

First time in three years I noticed this. What else have I not seen today, yesterday, the day before …

Why did I notice this today? What was I looking for? I wasn’t looking for the wall – it’s always been there, here … I suspect? I was looking elsewhere. A place less defined; a space within. I’m not sure of the difference between within and without. When I took this photograph I was inside looking out. Looking out while searching within? Where is the inside of us? Is it something like the ‘cloud’ where we keep our data, our documents and our photos? If it is, as was explained to me, in buildings all over the world, why call it a cloud? We understand what we can’t explain through metaphor. The ‘web’, ‘the net’, ‘seat of the soul’, ‘truth’,    ?    ‘indoor plumbing’.

Language forms our understanding of the world. Prevents us from understanding the world. Enlightens us, keeps us in the dark.

This window lets light in. I’m going within. I’m looking out. Prepositions locate our bodies. Am I in my body, or just wandering through it the way I walk around my house staring out of windows finding walls I never knew existed?

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Light is narrative.

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The lack of clarity liberates. I think sometimes it is better not to see the world clearly. I think I understand Jackson Pollock and Kandinsky and Malevich and will build a room with frosted glass for walls and for the ceiling too so that I might for the first time see the world for real.

But I won’t. I have neither the money, the plans nor the building skills. But …

I do have a roof. Here is a photograph of the roof of our boat house. Three winters ago strong winds nearly ripped it off. I paced a cement statue on it for stabilisation. There is no boat beneath the roof.

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Here is a fruit bowl. The fruit still in plastic with folds as delicate as crushed linen.
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Here are the elephants we bought in Mumbai where we walked in the warm rain of monsoon along The Queen’s Necklace and afterwards sat in Leopold’s Cafe with ice cold Coca-Cola and the warmth of gratitude.

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Somewhere in India a tree was cut down then someone brought these elephants out of the tree and we saw in them our connection with elephants in Africa where we were once chased by an old rogue who was camera shy and we spent some of our most intimate moments watching elephants, introducing our children to their grand elegance while camping in a reserve where some of our best memories of being alive were made. Now the elephants from India, like us, are 6000 km from that bush and when we notice them we might remember that once herds of elephant were commonplace, but not anymore. That is why we don’t always allow ourselves to notice them because the loss of elephants is sad and no matter the beauty of these wooden ones, they only point to what we left behind. So I keep these artefacts at a distance or in cardboard boxes for 6 years.

I am learning to let go of what was and take hold of what is . There’s a lot of beauty here.

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There is also this, my dogs remind me that the patina of futility which sometimes coat ‘s my vision is an illusion.

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then there was rain during the night and the drops on these leaves reminded me that finding beauty in the world is not about looking for it. You have to be not looking, through frosted glass.

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By Mike Scallan

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