self-awareness, terra incognita, writing

“Why we are never lost.”

Renaissance map makers wrote the words terra incognita to indicate land (terra in Latin) that was unknown or unexplored (incognita in Latin). By the 21st century there is little left of the world to map. But what do we mean when we say the world?

In some abstract way we imagine planet earth. However, the world is never more than the square metre around one’s feet.

We can never inhabit all of the world (unless you are a super-power) and yet we often speak as if we are intimate with all of it. We speak of how the world is when we can only possibly know how it is for us. How do we form our view of the world? Knowledge of current world events does not constitute knowledge of the world. We hold bits of data in our heads and imagine we know so much.

Other brave people have explored and mapped the globe, but to me it remains largely terra incognita.

I can only hope to know my self, the terrain within. It is difficult terrain and I am not always as brave as I ought to be. I am also not immortal. Time moves on, areas are left unexplored. I grow older, become less curious and more tired. That was yesterday though, today I could take on the, uh, world? Oh dear, it seems we do use the word a lot. It’s figurative you see, the world is an idea, not a place.

I do not know the world, and what I do know is very little. Therefore I cannot assume that what I know of the world is in any way a true reflection of the world. An apple is only knowable to me. It is never the same apple for anyone else.

Some nights I tame the beasts that confront me on the dark plains. some days they shred me.
I am of the ground, terrestrial, but I am unknown terrain. I am, in the words of Whitman – large, containing multitudes, and now I must map myself. Terra incognita was my name before my parents chose the one I have carried all my life. And everything gets worn down with time. Skin loses elasticity and wrinkles form like valleys. There are tectonic plates right under my skin. Joints ache, bones become brittle. Blood coagulates when it should not, arteries block, lungs must heave for air, the imagination weaves webs over the present, and reconstruct the past. The brain becomes atrophied.

My name is so thin in places you can see right through it if you hold it up to the light. It’s the same light I have been walking towards all my life, sometimes running to, sometimes away from but, mostly to. Once my name was new, freshly knitted it kept me warm for a while. Now the chill gets in quicker. People have been using it all my life too. My name, not the chill. When I hear it now it is like a bell clanging a labourer back to task. I used to associate my name with possibility. Now it like someone calling my name in a doctor’s waiting room, I expect bad news. So I’m changing it back to my original form name: terra incognito. Because I still feel unknown, unnamed and unformed.

One would expect that with five decades of breathing there would at least be an incremental increase of basic knowledge beyond the skill set one has accumulated through years of trudge. But no. There is no greater insight. One becomes not so much content with one’s life as resigned to it. If accepting your lot is the beginning of enlightenment, I may levitate soon. Currents still spark from the neurons in my brain. I still have fire in my belly.

There is pleasure in travelling through unknown terrain. Mapped and well signed land makes travel easy but the journey tedious.
Happy is he who can embrace the labyrinth of absurdity that is being. Being is not a set of coordinates.
One is never really lost.

https://medium.com/p/why-we-are-never-lost-b11a8eab2f6f?source=email-c99624de6846–writer.postDistributed&sk=4c7151c10c4faf7511bf6e30b6693e41

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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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old fart

The evolution of a grumpy old fart

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I once had a solar powered plastic yellow daisy with a smiley face that would sway left and right when it was in full sun. Much like a suburban alcaholic walking home from the bottle shop in summer. The object sat on the dashboard of my car. Not for long. One afternoon after a particularly difficult day at school I caught the bobbing gaze of the contrived, smug flower and it did not induce warm ripples of love. I promptly threw the palm sized manifestation of joy out of the window. There were no cars behind me, I checked, so no one was hurt. It landed near the week old carcass of a kangaroo. Poetic justice. I, on the other hand was perplexed. What had possessed me to do this? More importantly, what had possessed me to buy it? Had I experienced what sloppy murderers call ‘temporary insanity’?

I recall a morning when a television salesman and his stupid smile tried to sell me a purple and blue vacuum cleaner that promised to last a lifetime. I was furious at the blatant lie. A pattern was emerging. Irrational anger would rise to the surface of my consciousness at lightning speed. Advertisements for cleaning products, toothpaste, banks that cared and once in a lifetime sales sent me over the edge of relative normality. A year later I was driving with my good friend Lilian who had on her dashboard, a smiley solar powered daisy. I had an epiphany. I smiled back this time and understood what had happened that day the daisy died . I had not reacted badly to the notion of happiness as a consumer commodity. I was not experiencing a moment of existential rage. It was far simpler and more benign than that. I was evolving into that dark spectre of suburban homes everywhere: the grumpy old fart.

I am coming to terms with my new condition. I suspect I am still in denial. I insist to my daughters and son that I am only being realistic and just weary of commercial crap. They respond the way I reacted to my father, they roll their eyes. Wait, their turn is coming. There will always be a market for stupid plastic smiling flowers. Nonsense, like humanity’s ills is cyclical.
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Photographs of objects created by Sean Scallan

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