Tag: meaning

“What a piece of work is a man!”

An effective tool to counteract the onset of tedium induced by the interminable routine of work is to think of oneself as being an actor on stage. Ultimately it is all entertainment that is short-lived; this relieves one of the burden of taking oneself too seriously. Like life, the nature of work is full of contradictions. It is while doing what we loathe that we understand what we enjoy and even as we pursue what we love we encounter moments of dreariness where we hate the activity. Wittgenstein suggests that when we think we are exploring ideas we are really only exploring the language that represents the ideas. Since language, as the construction material of understanding, hovers between the negative and positive poles of binary opposites, we should not be surprised that life mirrors this perpetual tension.
Perhaps we have become addicted to pleasure and chase the ‘happy’ fix as a by-product of particular action or thought. Pleasure is not happiness and expecting life or work to offer a consistent flow of happiness is a fantasy, like trying to attain the never-ending orgasm. We need to experience the tension between loving and hating to settle into contentment where acceptance of both generates balance. The workplace offers us this tension in abundance and becomes the testing ground of our personal philosophies and belief systems. As emotional beings it is no wonder that we seek pleasure over pain. However, we are also rational beings and this is the space where we process the needs of our work and deliver the goods.
The industrial revolution introduced the era of technology, of systems and production that threatens to transform humankind into units of labour and consumption. It mechanized war and initiated medical breakthroughs which have contributed to increased longevity. Despite increased health and leisure time we appear to be more depressed than ever before. We hate work and in a manner befitting the twenty first century, are consuming our way to happiness with fanatical frenzy. Edwin Brock’s poem “Five ways to kill a man” remains an apt reflection of the human condition. In the poem he concludes that the simplest way to kill a man is “to see that he is living somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, and leave him there.” The dehumanizing effect of the modern world is a central feature of our art and literature. It is why we still need to come to terms with the notion of work and its impact in our theatre of being.
The prospect of a lifetime of a daily routine to and from work terrified me as a young man and it induced a crisis of being in my early 20’s. The anticipation of being bound to a lifetime of tedium seemed like suicide by slow ordeal. Overcome with hopelessness and growing despair I began searching for meaning within the perpetual slog of repetitive daily routine. I discovered Camus, Leonard Cohen and resilience. My work, engaging young minds in a classroom was fulfilling, but beyond the classroom the rigid regulation bound world of school systems was an internal corrosive. I felt little more than a bureaucratic cog in an immense sausage machine tasked with churning out productive, law abiding citizens who would in turn feed the system ad nauseam.
An event in my first year of teaching illustrates my growing sense of isolation in the school system. Walking along a corridor I came across a year 12 student standing and facing the red brick wall outside a classroom. His nose nearly touched the wall. I suspected he was the subject of Calvinist rehabilitation (corporal punishment was regarded an essential aspect of education then). I paused and shuffled up next to him to stare at the wall,
“OK, I’m looking but I don’t get it?” I said.
“I left my homework at home.” He replied.
“And you hope to find it here?”
He chuckled, “ma’am (female teachers were addressed as ma’am) told me to stand here like this.”
“I suppose it’s better than being inside” I said. We both laughed, too loud. The classroom door opened and the diminutive but steely tyrant stared me down, sneered, sniffed dismissively and shut the door. In that instant I was no longer a colleague but a bumbling school boy. Embarrassed and confused by the situation and my own response, or lack thereof, I slunk away like a child.
It was a seminal moment that began to shape my attitude to work. I felt like a failed court jester and knew I could never expect the system to nurture or support me beyond the meagre salary it provided. Fulfilment at work would depend less on the work being done and more on my frame of mind while doing it. “I work for myself” became my mantra rules became a rough guide secondary to creativity and fun. I wanted to generate enthusiasm and curiosity and have students look forward to getting to class, as much for myself as for them. I admitted ignorance to my students, I could be honest and debates were commonplace; students were learning and I was having fun at work. Later that year we first year teachers were being lectured by a teaching veteran, “work at discipline, work hard and work will be easy…”his voice droned on but all I could hear was Hamlet sigh “words, words, words …”.
By Mike Scallan

Not looking, through frosted glass

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


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 …


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


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?


Light is narrative.


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.


Here is a fruit bowl. The fruit still in plastic with folds as delicate as crushed linen.

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.


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.



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


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.


By Mike Scallan