My God! Father, how are the mighty fallen? You and I, Gods of men, men of stone. How versatile we have become? We are an immortal fiction, on a rock.
Are you not tired? I am weary of the sick cycle of fear and betrayal. Sick of our suckling prophets. Biled teats unloving fathers make, from babies born with gripe. And the woes of unloved wives will wean their vengeance, graft their sins on sons with lies.
In the beginning, which word or deed set in motion this habit of fathers warring with sons? Where is the root of our division? Will these disputes, whose original cause is lost in the rolling momentum of vengeance, never end? We forget why we are angry. We only know that anger gives purpose to our absurd existence.
If we could only sit and talk. Would we not find a New World at such a table? We are in need of a New World Father.
I will share with you a dream I had. I walked amongst my children mourning beside my coffin. Though they did not speak I heard the cry of their hearts which whispered as one voice:
Our Father, hollow is thy name. Thy kingdom’s come as your will is done on earth and heaven. We shall not trespass on you if you do not trespass on us. Lead us not, though temptation lures you to evil. This here’s no longer your kingdom. Not now, or ever. Amen
A child learns to walk twice in the world. The first time guided by parents, the second time guided by their loss.
Father, I adored you. The degree of a man’s anger is a measurement of the love he feels he has lost. And what is this anger? It is the anguish of rejection, uttered. It is me directing your gaze back to me. It is me helpless, hopeless and lost navigating myself away from the vortex of confusion which threatens to swallow me. It is all that is left of our love, and as a remnant of that which I held so dear, I hold onto it with all my strength. It is not your love, but it is better than nothing. It is a slow burning fire seeking new air and dead kings must have heirs. Yours is the burden of heaviness you now must heave, a rock for a heart.
The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1889.
The word Balance hovers somewhere in the mystery of consciousness. Balance. Do you notice how crisp those seven letters are? Still remarkably agile after centuries of use. There is the pleasing symmetry of the a‘s on either side of the gentle l. The soft cadence of the ‘nce offsets the solid b. It’s a good word, easy to speak. Its ease ends there. For the word implies, like many, what it is not. A word is never just a word. Every word is an idea, Arthur Rimbaud said. Initially, balance appears to be a matter of fact, an observation of physical objects in relation to various forces. Specifically, it describes an object in a state of equilibrium relative to the force of gravity. However, it has come to mean so much more. It is also a quality of being many strive to attain.
The idea of ‘Balance’ appears to have gained greater currency in recent decades, perhaps indicating a deficiency thereof. The word first appears in the 13th century to describe the weighing device (scales) used to determine the mass of an object. It is only in the 1580’s that we find reference to it in the arithmetical sense of the difference between two sides. However, common sense tells me that the Sumerians using cuneiform text in the 4th century BCE must have employed the concept, if not the word. Balance as a signifier of equality seems to find traction in the early 1600’s and by the late 1700’s it has a foothold in socio-political thinking which contributes to the ideas that manifest in the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789) as the equal distribution of power between rulers and the ruled, i.e. political equality. The idea that a low-born peasant was an equally important piece on the chess board of politics is the essence of Democracy and a radical departure from the centuries old Feudal System where ownership of land was the sole criteria for gaining a political voice. The right to vote and participate in the mechanism of government which we exercise in Democratic states was paid for in blood. We tend to take liberty for granted and yet, we would do well to remember that is a fragile balance of power easily toppled. Whether equality actually exists, whether it is an abstract ideal or innate to specific social constructs is the topic for another time, but it is worthwhile noting that nothing is set in stone as truth. Truth lies behind a series of veils comprised of language and the relative perception of words. But, back to balance.
Balance is an act of defiance. It is the condition of elegance emerging from the tension between the force of gravity and will-power. The will to walk in a toddler is a remarkable testament to the pre-verbal need for balance, for overcoming the physical forces that would otherwise have us remain prone. If only we could retain that same degree of persistence throughout our lives, we would be unstoppable. As we emerge from the cocoon of childhood we realise that we may do more than respond to the forces of the world. We begin to push back in order to create for ourselves a kingdom of Self. We learn that to keep order in our kingdom requires constant self-evaluation. In the early years we are vulnerable to outside forces like friends, work and ambition. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an authentic version of one’s self. This internal struggle is powered by the same Will that helped us in our infancy to walk. When we are consciously aware of this, we develop self-awareness. Self-awareness is perhaps the mechanism enabling inner balance.
A significant portion of our journey towards self-awareness is spent contemplating those points in our life where we lost the indefatigable drive which characterised our youth. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood we lost our sense of Self to the various groups that helped us to survive. Some people, not all, choose to restore their original selves as rulers of their kingdom. This process has been called many things (enlightenment, awakening) by different cultures, one of the things we might call it, is balance.
Balance is an unforgiving master. You either balance or you fall. We are trained to balance within a year of birth. We learn quickly, fall often and get up (mostly). Physical balance is straightforward, unless there are bicycles or tightropes involved. Emotional balance is trickier. The falls seem harder. Getting up requires immense emotional stamina. We sometimes manage to hobble along at an awkward pace. A hobble is just a bruised wobble and both are underrated.
There is also a carnivalesque quality to balance. We love watching people trying to maintain balance. Remember the Circus? Tight-rope walkers, jugglers, clowns on unicycles, elephants doing hand-stands and people balancing plates on swords on their chins. Imagine a Zen Master juggling meat cleavers whilst in a state of tranquil transcendence or Yoda, eyes closed, duelling a Sith Lord whilst levitating an X-Wing.
Balance has become a quest and work-life balance, is the Holy Grail of modernity. We may have faith in its existence but never fully expect to find it. Balance has been neatly repackaged for modern consumers by an array of gurus and barefooted experts exuding calmness and bleached teeth. Balance is for people who do not need to work, raise a family and find the meaning of their lives in between school pick-ups, grocery shopping, homework and the five mandatory tasks for self-improvement. If you can balance a budget you can probably walk on water too.
It may be helpful to think of balance as the tension between the opposing forces of one’s life. This tension is either a window of opportunity or a door slamming shut in your face. Where there is gravity mankind learns to walk and fly. Intense emotional pain gave Edvard Munch his Scream, Van Gogh his Starry Night, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath their words. It is a state that simultaneously contains stability and collapse, like Shrodinger’s Cat. Equal to every force acting on our lives, is a desire to escape them.
This is why, simply stated, aeroplanes mostly balance in the sky. Consciousness though, also pushes back. Our imaginations fly, our thoughts have no physical form until they are inked on paper, typed onto pages contained in machines or constructed on the ground with soil, steel, wood and other heavy materials. On earth we must manifest our thoughts for them to be real. We must pluck them from the ether of consciousness and weigh them down with the heaviness of hand and ink, set them down on the page, trap them within the luminosity of the screen so that they do not fly away. Writing is gravity
So, what have we learnt? Balance is the manifestation of unseen forces. The moment you think about it, it’s gone. It involves falling, a lot. It entertains us when it is done well and even more when it is not. There is a spiritual quality to balance. It is evidence of a soul at peace with the world. It renders the possessor simultaneously detached from the world whilst being fully in the world. Or is that medication? Who knows?
You frolic at my circumference, wet your toes at the edge of me, and you think you know me? Shall we examine our existence? Having splashed in my shallows you claim to have touched my depths? Poets, not the moon, have me falling, crashing, frothing fiercely, but, I was only arching my back against the sky, and there is so much sky. These waves heave my interminable sigh, and have heard you in your panicked swarms come bathe to assuage your peeling husks blistered by the rub of coarsely moving time.
Now I push back ceaselessly from the madness of the land. I lived there aeons past, before memory, before you. Traces of me are cut into rock there. I have been in places you have not yet stepped. Once your mountains were folds beneath my feet, your vast forests, kindling I pressed to the pulp that ant-like, you unearth and burn. You burn everything that’s good. Your forests, your books, your peacemakers, your enemies … yourselves.
Granted, we have had our moments. I was happy when you first built boats. How we played. I even pulled you along when your arms grew weary. What fine times we had? Trade began well. Too soon sharing begat greed
I recall the fragrance of oranges, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and olives freshly pressed. I held those memories while you loaded your holds with humans, then guns, travelled to distant shores, and burnt them as well. And you say I am unfathomable?
I gave you the antedeluvian age. Not being a land creature, I retreated. I was young and foolish. I should have stayed, kept you drowned. But, you were always too far gone and one cannot drown the dead. Granted, there were other forces as well. You have quantified and measured all but one. The force that brings you here. Why do you come to this shore? Why stare at the edge of the world?
Homer made Gods of men at sea. Most I spat back. My taste is not for men. Giving me a name will not pacify my nature. Keep your trident, your trinkets and toys. You do not know me. I am a stranger to you still. My tempests will swallow Empire after Empire. I remember the Phoenicians, I knew Odysseus, saw Troy fall, watched Mark Anthony’s fleet burn at Actium, blew the Northmen to the New Wold five centuries before Columbus sailed the America’s or Diaz rounded Cape Horn, marvelled at the Treasure Fleet of Zheng He. I watched nations rise and fall and the rivers of blood that bleed from power did not make you stop. Instead the fires of hatred forged bigger guns and bombs which took flight holding the power of the sun, your new light of the world that poisons us still. Even so, I will remain after you are done with your toys, your noisy politics and rattling sticks.
All knowing man, my child. All your sandcastles, games, your frolicking at the edges of what you think of as the best of me-all these aeons you saw just waves, thought I had come out to play? Weary of your trifling games, I feel a surge rising …
My nature is deeper than those frothy collapses caught in the curve of endless verbs. I am the alpha erasing the edge of the omega of your world. Unspoken still, I persist.
after which he smiled. 7. Then God located the binary swing of the atom and gave it prominence. Thus there emerged from their subsequent dance, the sky and the land. 8. He breathed air and called it Heaven, peopled the land and, called it Hell. 9. People dreamed of flying, watched birds and, like them, wished to fly. It was a grand dream that took grip of their imagination. 10. But, even those who managed to fly, found that sooner or later, they had to return to the ground. 11. What goes up, must come down. It’s not rocket science. 12. Where the planes came down, at an aerodrome on the outskirts of town, a bird-chaser lived in a shack. 13. His job was to chase flocks of ducks and seagulls that gathered there and presented a hazard to planes. (They did not consider that, perhaps, the planes were a hazard to the birds). But, the duck chaser did as he was told.
14. His name was Jack and he thought a lot about flight, birds, growing olives and the meaning of life. 15. He was looking for a unified theory of everything. 16. Or rather, he was looking for the words to describe the thing that connected everything. 16. If the world is all that matters and matter is comprised of atoms, why is conscious thought still on the outside of everything? In fact, where is it located? 17. It’s a very hard problem he thought. But it can’t be rocket science. 18. Jack inhaled great draughts of air and as he did, he had a thought that opened like a flower of light stretching its petals. If heaven is in the sky and, the sky is air and, we breathe air, do we not have heaven within us? Surely we do not need to fly to get to heaven he thought?
19. Jack told his friend Felix, the owner of a local Tavern, about his idea. 20. Many pilots frequented Felix’s Tavern and opened up to him about their problems, like in the movies (except this was for real). 21. One night Felix told some of them about his friend, Jack, and his theory that men did not need to fly to reach heaven. 22. You could have heard a pin drop. 23. What does a duck chaser know about the science of flight? they said, and left . 24. The dedicated fliers among them did not like this talk. It made a mockery of their endeavours. 25. Then they became angry. 26. Through friends of friends in high places, they had Jack fired from his job. 27. This did not bother Jack who moved to a shack in the country to grow olives and think.
28. The disgruntled airmen flew as often as possible to forget what Jack had said. 29. They grew angry and bitter, he had tainted their flights with doubt. 30. They resolved to call him evil, for he had made impure what had always been pure. 31. Only fliers and those with aeroplanes, or friends with aeroplanes they said, were loyal to the idea of heaven. 32. It is blasphemy for a person to claim that just by breathing, on his own, anyone can find heaven they exclaimed. 33. To know Heaven, a person must fly with an authorised carrier. This, they proclaimed, is the way.
34. And that became law because big money was involved. 35. Jack and his kind would now face legal proceedings if they dared speak against the authorised carriers, big or small. 36. How cruel you are to take from people their dreams. Begone from our midst, leave us at least our dreams the lawyers representing the authorised carriers told Jack. 36. Jack was happy to begone from them. By begone he understood them to mean be quiet. That he could do. 37. And, the lowly breather of air departed from the lawyer’s office whistling a happy tune. 38. The lawyers cracked open a box of Cohiba Siglio #3 and celebrated. They laughed and laughed. 39. They had outwitted Jack and his kind. Furthermore, they were friends with people of influence. 40. Soon, it came to pass that there were two kinds of people. Fliers who dreamed of flying and those who grew olives, had regular day jobs and just breathed.
41. The fliers became like gods. They sought to safeguard their knowledge of flight.42. After months of collaboration they produced a very special book: The Authorised Manual Of Flight. It was a Big book.
43. They filled the manual with complicated mathematics and laws of physics and equations to describe force, gravity, velocity and motion. They concluded with a chapter entitled How to fold your parachute and avoid death. 44. Initially there was a great demand for the book but since no-one could understand it, sales dropped and soon it was forgotten. 45. This pleased the fliers. There plan had worked. Their jobs were secure, as was the adoration they enjoyed from the masses. 46. The masses accepted that they were illiterate in the field of flight. They were relieved they did not need to read complicated books or learn to fly. They were happy to pay authorized carriers to carry them. 47 They continued to work hard and save like heck to pay for the privilege of being flown. 48. Everyone was happy. 49. Except the men of influence, the friends of friends of fliers. 50. Everyone was benefiting from flight but them. 51. They introduced a tax for all authorized carriers, big and small. 52. The carriers were busy, the tax was annoying but they had expected it. They increased their fares and paid their taxes. 53. Now, everyone was happy. Those who were not, did not count.
54. Meanwhile, back at his shack, Jack was happily harvesting olives and sharing his ideas with back-packers who came from all over the world to experience honest work. 55. And, they paid Jack for the work they did. This made no sense to Jack, but it was what they wanted. He was happy to comply with their wishes. It’s not rocket science. 56. Besides, their company was good. 57. Jack’s ideas got traction overseas. He did not spread them but the back-packers who were mostly young were liberated by his notions and upon returning home, many took up flying. They built their own flying machines. 58. The authorized carriers were not happy when they discovered that people were flying independently of them. 59. We must stop these anarchists before they destroy our way of life, they declared. 60. And the headlines in newspapers (owned by friends of friends of people of influence) read: Anarchists threaten our way of life! 61. The young flyers were stunned. They searched for the meaning of anarchist: 62. a person who believes in or tries to bring about anarchy. They then had to search the term Anarchy: a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems. 63. They quickly sought legal representation. 64. No lawyers were willing to represent them. 65. The anarchists were arrested.
66. Everyone felt better. 67. Troublemakers are selfish, the tabloids reported, never happy. 68. The authorised carriers breathed a collective sigh, smoked their cigars and went back to the skies. 69. I went back to my olives and shack, smoked my pipe and wrote this down. 70. Now I pickle olives and between thoughts, I breathe, deeply and contentedly. 71. I wish you peace. 72. The end.
,but, despite the tensions we were soldiers first and Kreet was the land that bound us both, the unwilling and the blind.
The hour before sunrise is the coldest. The wind picks up and the chill settles on the bones. You can run for the whole hour and not feel warmed up inside. But any time away from the camp is a relief. Especially now with the prisoners there. The enemy prisoners. We prefer the 1am duty. The guardhouse is noisy until 11pm anyway and the chance of being hauled away for some dirty job is high. At one in the morning the world feels like a peaceful place. The lights in town shimmer, the lights of the main road hang beneath the horizon like pots of fire. Once a barn owl swooped over our heads as we sat in the grass smoking a cigarette, cupping our hands over it carefully to avoid detection and putting our heads between our knees to suck in the smoke and hide the soft glow. We felt it before we heard it. It sounded like something big breathing out over us. We felt a quick rush of cool air on our necks and then heard a swoosh. Between feeling the owl and hearing it we had rolled away and were aiming at the blackness behind us. After a kilometre we started laughing uncontrollably and sat down again and smoked a cigarette but coughed a lot through laughter. That was one of the happiest moments from that time. It bound us and allowed us to remain friends after the difficulties later. That we could laugh together gave each of us permission to forgive one another later.
There was this evening in the beer garden. Blokes getting drunk and forgetting stuff they had seen or done and finding absolution in the wordless confessional of alcohol.
We have to fight to hold onto our land, Kreet is ours someone said. Maybe the beer had given me courage? Maybe the guilt of silent collusion got the better of me?
Is it really our land? I said. The Company officer, the one who had forced us to leopard crawl over slate and laughed as we had bled, was there. Like dogs we were eager for his approval. We imagined he had become a friend.
You’re crossing a line he said.
A veil of distrust descended over us. Things continued as normal after that but dialogue strained as if emerging every time tired from a long journey through an internal labyrinth where pre verbalised thoughts were considered according to possible interpretations and consequences. Everyone became cautious, having to hold the thread of the original thought while surveying the various landscapes that began to form and take shape as a result of the words spoken. Conversation collapsed under the pressure and became chatter skimming along the surface of things: the weather, physical ailments, safe complaints about people mutually agreed upon to be fools and the camp dog, Asterion. It was always safe and comforting to share stories about Asterion’s antics as if talking about him bridged the abyss deepening between us.
That was all a long time ago and Kreet is reclaimed now. Those who were once prisoners now lead and those who used to lead have been imprisoned. I wonder now if we were soldiers protecting the land or minotaurs prowling the imagined idea of a country in the subterranean labyrinth of some nameless terrain in wait for a name change? The friend with the owl now farms the land and I exiled myself from it.
The new country has a name but I have become weary of names for land. Also there is nothing new. There or here. So how does one talk now about place? The words I have are from a different time? The ears that would have understood are gone, if they were ever there. There are leaders here, but I’m not sure yet whether they lead soldiers or minotaurs. I was a minotaur once. Now I look for Asterion instead. There is always an Asterion. I only saw an owl once. There are prisoners here, they are everywhere. Here the street lights do not struggle against the dark. Days are much like nights, just with slightly sharper shadows.
I don’t care about the planet or my children’s future. Not my words. Stay with me. An empty tin of dog food was found in the bin (now called the general waste bin). Apparently it should not have been there. It ought to have been rinsed, washed and dried and THEN placed in the recycling bin. I know, I’m a very bad person. I’ll get over it. My family, however now cast suspicious glances at me whenever I am in the kitchen. Big Brother has nothing on them. They think their observations are discreet, but I know they’re watching. It’s a dystopian nightmare.
I’m not against recycling. Let’s get that clear. But, the rules that are emerging around this enterprise are doing my head in. I can only speak for my municipal district, The Shire of Wanneroo, WA. I used to feel good about throwing an empty water bottle into the recycling bin. My enthusiasm was premature. One does not deposit the entire bottle in the bin (recycling bin, not the other one). No. There is a procedure:
1. Remove lid and place in general waste. I don’t get this, it’s plastic! But, there you go? Perhaps recycling plants have had complaints from employees about the strain that undoing lids causes them. Maybe, heaven forbid, nails have been chipped. Possibly they roll onto the floor and present OHS tripping hazards? I don’t know. I no longer care and my family are tired of my ranting, so I grudgingly comply.
2. The plastic ring that is attached to the lid, the polymer noose around the neck of the bottle must be cut, removed and like the lid, be placed in general waste. These worm like bits of plastic are likely to be mistaken for a snack by aquatic creatures. But, there you have it. Not to be recycled.
3. The bottle may now be placed in the recycling bin. No! Are you mad?
4. Remove the plastic label and place in general waste, it’s soft plastic and soft plastic cannot be recycled. Really? Yes, really. Other soft plastics suffer the same fate. I’ve since learned that whilst plastic bottles crush easily they are not soft. Soft plastics include any plastic bag or wrapper, the kind we sea floating in the sea or garroting unfortunate seagulls. General waste only.
Kevin Mcleod (of Grand Designs fame) appeared in an excellent documentary film called Slumming It in 2010. He spent a week in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi and during this time visited a recycling plant where over 90% of all plastics, and other stuff, are recycled. I’m just saying …
It would appear to me that we are not yet where counties like India are. Recycling offers employment possibilities and maybe, if the authorities took it as seriously as re-elections, they would make the process easier and not harder for us. I know of someone living in another Perth suburb where general waste is no longer collected, only recycled waste. What?
In the words of Yoda, do or do not do, there is no try. If we’re going to recycle let’s recycle. If I sound like a grumpy old fart, sue me. I have spent hours that add up to days that become weeks and over a period of 35 years may have accumulated to at least a few years, patiently adhering to the absurdity of bureaucracy. Don’t be afraid of climate change, rather fear the behemoth of bureaucracy that threatens to bury us with policies and procedures. Right now, I have an empty tin of dog food to process for recycling.
Because it’s not another diluted version of chic urban zen in point form. I am not chic and don’t do points.
Because you saw a number and imagined bullet points that usually signify a quick read. You know, the kind that leave you unfulfilled but proud of yourself for attempting to do something constructive.
Because you can’t help yourself from reading further, just in case the secret to life unfolds at the end. Sorry. Still looking myself (but this isn’t the end …).
If you want to read something worthwhile, get a book. Something tactile and heavy, where just by the weight in your hands you get a sense of the labour and life energy that has gone into bending and shaping sentences. Where the words on the page are there, like iron wroughted, steel hammered. Where you are confronted by the work of a smith, not a frustrated suburbanite with a flexible aposable thumb.
You should not read this because it says nothing. It is a cultural artefact of this age of immediacy and nutshell enlightenment. It represents the low point of human evolution and reminds you that you are right there in it. How low we have all sunk.
Now go and watch a movie on Netflix, sip an almond milk latte, free of everything except substance and forget that this ever happened. You never came this way to be reminded by Sisyphus that you’re pushing a rock up and over and down and up again over the beige hill of your dreams long since buried beneath the to do lists and shopping lists that have come to define your existence.
You see, my friend, I don’t write to entertain. I write to scratch, to dig into the skin. To remember that earth is a place of dirt, mud, stone and heavy winds that blow cold and if all we do is try to stay warm then we forget who we are.
5. You should not read this because if this is where your existence thus far has brought you, there is no pot of gold here. The rainbow you thought you were following is just moisture in light viewed at a particular angle.
It is a universal truth that there exists between man and inanimate objects a mysterious. Astute observers of humanity, such as Woody Allen speaks of the “innate hostility of inanimate objects to man.” I concur. My contribution to this dialectic is a response to one of humankind’s worst inventions-the public toilet roll dispenser. Where they fail in utility, they succeed as effective metaphors of modern existence. They hold within them the promise of ease-of-use but despite their failure to deliver, they continue to keep us hoping that next time it will be easier and better. It seldom is.
Ode to a banquet’s end
When in haste to this enamel throne I come, the world behind me, I am, as made, alone here, undone; my kingdom’s laid bare – its mystery revealed: all human endeavour’s are a folly unrivalled, while the high and the lowly are at table divided, men’s stations at banquet, are at toilet suspended.
But after thine bowels for thee here have toiled, Alas, now be warned, the encore is spoiled, this paper dispenser would have you stay soiled.
Were Dante alive now his inferno would tell, this plastic contraption’s the first ring of hell.
I do not know her, the old lady at the window. But, she is familiar to me. I see her almost every day when I approach the cross section. I look for oncoming traffic, then look for her. It has become a habit. She is consistent (a necessary requirement for a habit to form). I do not know if her looking out of the window is the result of habit or the lack of alternatives. She sits to the right of her window. (would it alter the narrative if I called it thewindow?) So, now I have designated the window as hers. Naturally, she does not own the window. Ownership in old-age homes are a complicated business. Usually it is strictly limited to private possessions: blankets, clothing, books, toiletries, jewellery, false-teeth. Unlike their owners, these items retain value. They are handled with tenderness, treasure-like, as if the care shown them might somehow reach the dead. Perhaps we treat their things as sacred in the hope that these gentle gestures might have retrospective powers. Maybe kindness in the present has currency in the after-life. Nevertheless, domestic rituals emerge around the debris of life. Clothing and blankets are held up to the face, breathed in to detect traces of the dead. Unopened cakes of soap sit in drawers scenting underwear, rosaries gather friction, grief adheres to old toothbrushes, broken spectacles, roughly scribbled champagne corks and postcards from Egypt written in illegibly elegant script. The physical disappearance of someone is shocking. These objects absorb the after shocks of their leaving. As for the places where they lived; in old age homes a bucket of disinfectant, wide open windows to release the miasma of death and a lick of paint re-sanitise the venue for the next itinerant. Ownership may be complex in old age homes, but the simple certainties of death and departure compensate for it. I do not know the contractual details of her facility. I know there are places like these where inmates are expected to purchase a space that is recycled every time the current owner/s die. A safe investment that just keeps giving.
In First World countries we tend to pack the aged and infirm away when their maintenance outweighs their value. One must contribute positively to the GDP to warrant state concern. Otherwise, one finds oneself gradually removed from society. Folded up like well worn tablecloths and placed in the back of the linen cupboard, until the next Salvo’s run. In Third World economies, the aged are generally valued and, if not valued, at least respected. Those who struggle for material security understand the emotional and spiritual value of people. They know that dignity is priceless and owed to their parents who have struggled to hold onto it all of their lives. The aged are respected for being there, for having carried on, teaching their children that value lies in endurance, not assets. They build their lives on people, not money. They have community where individual well-being is everyone’s concern. We, on the other hand, are a loose collection of cocoons. Each of us spinning silk and blind to the world around us.
I knew a man once who did a brave thing. I did not understand it as such at the time. I was young and had not yet been called upon to endure anything more than my adolescent neuroses. He lived on a large piece of land. We flew over it once in a small plane. We had travelled in a straight line for ten minutes and all the time it was his land beneath us. It was beautiful, rugged, arid African Bush. The memory of it fills me with nostalgia. In the evenings Impala herds settled around a thorn tree near the home. He had resettled vultures that were endangered. One day he walked out into the bush, undressed and then shot himself in a place where he knew the vultures would be. I believe he was a brave man. In the end he understood a thing or two about real value.
She, the lady at the window, has draped over her knees a crocheted patchwork blanket. Coloured squares of lilac, blue, purple and pink are bordered by yellow. The palette of severe bruising. I’ve not seen her do anything but sit and look out of the window. I have willed her to lean forward, possibly smile but it feels like a prayer, more for my sake than hers.
Her curtains were drawn today. If tomorrow the windows are open wide, I will be sad.
I admire writers who are able to publish weekly or even daily. I’m just not one of them. To the readers I have gained, thank you for your time, I know how valuable it is. I believe that I should explain the way that I work in case my lack of visibility is taken as a lack of interest.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about pieces I am busy with. The thinking happens in the form of editing, revising and sometimes walking away from a piece in order to return with greater perspective. I don’t like rushing an idea. I usually work on several pieces at a time. I currently have over a hundred draft pieces and at least two longer term projects, a novel and a collection of various types of writing, including drawing.
Perhaps if I had the luxury of writing full time I might publish more? However, my day job as a teacher does take up a lot of my time, and I don’t mind because I love teaching. The tension between working at teaching and working at writing has over the years become a creative tension. It works for me, I guess it has to. During intense periods of marking and preparing, ideas will flicker and a brief pursuit follows. The ideas gestate and mature and are moulded into shape.
I have come to view writing as a craft and have developed a deep respect for anyone who becomes a master. Blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, wordsmiths and all the other smiths are cut from the same cloth. Passion for perfection drives us, discipline steers us and a completed work disappoints us. We persevere.
So, my friends, when my posts aren’t appearing please know that I have not forgotten you, I’m hammering away in my workshop.
It’s the last lesson of the day. My students file slowly in, like Rodin’s Burghers. I decide to shelve the lesson I’d planned (a Southern Gothic sojourn through To kill a Mocking Bird via Childish Gambino’s brilliant This is Americaand Rammstein’s Amerika. I was going to start with a question. Where is America outside of text? It’s not happening today. I was really looking forward to it. But, this could be more important. Something tells me things are about to get real!
They’re unusually quiet, too quiet. They’re not even trying to look interested. I don’t blame them. They’ve just written a test, the third in as many days. They write another one tomorrow and exams begin next week. Days like this I feel more like a production line manager than a teacher. It’s a lesson in time management, at least that’s what I try to tell myself. But, I can’t say that to them and that makes me wonder whether it’s the truth. What exactly are we doing here? Them, me, all of us? My career as a teacher has brought me to this class on this day and it doesn’t feel right. ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’.
I know the standard response to this scenario. I’ve heard it all my life: “They’ll survive, they’ll have to in the real world. We’re preparing them for the real world.”
The “real world.” I’ve always wondered where that is exactly? I know what is implied by the term. It’s a reference to the working life, you know the one. The five day week of 7–12 hour workdays to pay off the mortgage that has us strapped to banks until we retire, or die, or retire to die. The world of interminable responsibility, diminishing energy, flagging passion and expensive annual holidays where we travel far to bicker and fight with the people we bicker and fight with at home, that world.
Why do we lie to our kids? Why do we tell them we’re educating them to think for themselves, and when they do we punish them. We tell them to follow their dreams but by the time they reach their final school year they’ve forgotten what that was because we’ve only taught them how to write examinations, not how to turn their passions into a livelihood. We tell them they can be whoever they want to be but at school we train them to be just like us, focused on what needs to be done to get the money to get through the next week, month, year. We’ve trained them to chase the carrot. First it’s year 6, then it’s year 12 and the school leaving certificate after which it’s either University or an apprenticeship of some kind to get the car, then the house, then, … then it’s holding on for dear life until they have kids, while holding on tighter, getting them educated while dealing with career crises, mid-life crises, deaths, relationship collapses and while we’re losing grip they’re bursting into full bloom and they’re wide eyed and eager to live and you, after just barely getting through the same bad day you’ve been having everyday for the last 10 years, you catch them by the scruff and say “wait until you get into the real world!”
You don’t see the light fade from their eyes straight away, that takes time. But, if you’re lucky, and you’re a teacher, one day you look at them, and you see the light flickering in their eyes and you put aside the curriculum and tell them you’re taking them outside to sit or lie in the sun while you read Walt Whitman or Shakespeare sonnets to them. If you’re lucky enough to do that you grab the chance because you can feel the light flicker inside yourself too, and, sometimes you just have to sit in the sun and read poetry to get it back. At least for a while longer. It’ll fade in time. After all, the world out there is real, it sucks up light like a black hole. I guess that’s how Shakespeare imagined Denmark was for Hamlet.
*One of my favourite authors on the subject is Sir Ken Robinson. Check out his TED talk here . His book Creative Schools is a must read for anyone who cares about learning and education.