Worlds above and worlds below

Is it just me, or does everyone, visiting a town they have not been in for, say, 11 years, walk around town recalling moments from their previous visit with a slight sense of melancholy? Does everyone – or just me – walk past a park in the middle of the CBD and spend a little too long trying to imagine the ghost of their former self still sitting there?

I used to have a tendency towards indulging in nostalgia quite a lot. This was unsympathetically pointed out to me years ago by a teacher at art school – I was about 22 years old at the time. One wonders what could make someone nostalgic at the age of 22.  I’ve certainly wondered about that quite a bit, and have some ideas on the matter, but I’ll save those for another post.

At 22, my tendency to feel melancholy about the passing of time, to the extent of mourning the past, as if it was always better than the present, contributed to me frequently feeling depressed. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

As I got older, I was able to recognise that this thought pattern was illogical. I didn’t have a particularly happy childhood, so there was no sense in feeling sad about it being over. Even taking into account that I wasn’t exactly upbeat every moment of my twenties, given the choice I would definitely have stayed there rather than go back to my miserable childhood.

My flawed thinking was brought home quite clearly one time in my early thirties, when my daughter was about a year old, and I found myself thinking with melancholy back to a year earlier, feeling overwhelmingly sad that it was in the past.

Now, it’s not unusual for parents to feel poignant from time to time at how quickly their child grows up, but the specific memory I was projecting all that melancholy onto was a memory of myself walking my daughter in the pram, around and around in the back yard, crying, because I couldn’t get my daughter to go to sleep and I was so utterly exhausted myself. It wasn’t a happy memory, and what’s more, it wasn’t a once-off moment – it was indicative of a whole year where I suffered from insomnia, usually lying awake most of the night while my baby slept, and then struggling through the days on maybe 2-3 hours sleep while she would not sleep at all, or at most for maybe 30 minutes once or twice – not long enough for me to doze off if I tried, being as tightly wound as I was.

When I found myself idealising that specific moment of crying from exhaustion a year earlier as if it was better than the present moment, I knew I had to do something about that mindset. I went to counselling – for a variety of reasons – and learned to use cognitive behavioural therapy to work on not automatically feeling nostalgic and sad when I thought about the past. That seemed to work for me.

Since that time, I haven’t been victim to overwhelming and illogical melancholy about the past – at least, no more than any other parent. I’m sure all parents occasionally feel a little bitter-sweet sadness when we notice that our once dependent, adoring child is now a surly teenager, complete with independent thought and the tendency to roll her eyes when anything is asked of her!

And, for most of us, visiting a town we were last in 11 years earlier probably is going to bring back memories, memories not just of being in that town, but also of how we were “back then.”Memories of whether we were happy, sad, depressed, single, in a relationship, whether our child was then a toddler and is now a teenager – all of that is normal. Perhaps also normal is the tendency to mark the first time you see, do, or go somewhere that you last saw/did/went to when someone now dead was still alive. Or perhaps that’s just me.

This week I went on a short trip to Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, Australia’s smallest and most southern island state, separated from Victoria, the state where I live, by the cold waters of Bass Strait.

Hobart is a picturesque little city, (population of the entire greater Hobart area is only around 217k), Australia’s second-oldest city, after Sydney. Its age is illustrated by the lovely old sandstone buildings in the CBD, and down at Salamanca Place, that probably date back 200 years or more – that’s pretty old architecture in Australia!

Hobart is also picturesque from a distance – travelling along the river on the ferry, or into town from the airport, I felt as if I was seeing what Sydney might have looked like about 120 years ago. Hobart’s suburbs are little pockets of houses built into the foothills of mountain ranges all along the Derwent River. It’s not over-developed – in all cases, buildings peter off about half-way up, leaving plenty of bushland around and above them. It’s a town that is still very closely connected to the bush, the mountains and the water. Looking along any street in the Hobart CBD, your view will almost always end with water, or a mountain range, or both. The city is snuggled up to Mount Wellington(Kunanyi), which towers in the background, 1269 metres (4163 ft) above sea level. Drinking coffee in a cafe in the CBD I could clearly see the remnants of snow on its peak, glistening in the winter sun, as if it was just a few blocks away.

Winter afternoon sun in Salamanca Place, Mt Wellington in the background.

Winter afternoon sun in Salamanca Place, Mt Wellington in the background.

I relished having two days to myself to wander around this pretty little town, which offered all the luxuries one expects in a city (good coffee, and great corn bread!) while feeling as friendly, and as close to nature, as a country town.

The other time I was in Hobart was about 11 years ago, with my partner and daughter, when she was about 4 years old. Thinking back to that time, it’s as if I was another person back then. I was still struggling with all my own insecurities, with being a parent, married, in my thirties, not having any career – basically any cliched anxiety you can name. I was still much closer to the slightly depressed person I’d been in my twenties. Perhaps that’s why, of all the memories I have of that trip 11 years ago, a negative incident stands out – we ran for a bus, and our little 4 year old girl, running, tripped and fell on the footpath. She cut her lip and nose, blood gushed from her nose and all over her clothes, and she howled – all difficult to deal with when you are tourists in an unfamiliar town. I felt terrible, and guilty, though probably not with any good reason.

But I know that we had fun, too. We took a ferry ride, and rode a double-decker bus to the Cadbury chocolate factory. We shopped in the local op (thrift) shop. We ate out at some nice cafes, wandered around the Salamanca market area, went for walks and, on at least one occasion, we rested on a bench seat in one of the parks in the CBD area.

I only recall that last detail because we have photos of us sitting in a park, although as I walked around Hobart this week, I couldn’t identify with certainty which park they were taken in.

So in an effort to take stock of the changes in my life in the past 11 years, I decided to take the time to sit on a bench in a park for a few minutes. Perhaps with the ghost of my past self beside me, who knows. I wanted to think about layers of memories  – because of course, in contemplating the change in my life since I was last in Hobart, I’d need to contemplate the fact that my younger brother was alive when I was here last, and now he is not.

I chose a park at the edge of the CBD, before you go down to the piers at the water’s edge. The park seemed a little run down and uncared for, and a group of young men were hanging around doing skateboard tricks. I have nothing against young men skateboarding, but a combination of factors, including the time of day and their attire, made me feel that it would be better to sit as far away from them as possible, so I chose a seat half-way around the park.

With a view to writing something on my blog about this trip, I started to make some notes on my phone. I had just enough time to write, Sitting on a bench in the park with the fountain, off Elizabeth St – when, glancing up, I saw that one of the men was approaching me – clearly he was going to ask me for money. I’m not scared of people asking me for money – sometimes I give it to them. My policy is to decide quickly, and if giving money, to give it respectfully, making no judgement about what they are going to use it for. But his approach ended my hardly-begun reverie.

In this case I didn’t even consciously think about whether to give him money or not, possibly because, being seated, and alone, it was a no-brainer as to which course of action would bode better for me. Before he had even opened his mouth and begun the speech I had anticipated – about not wanting to ask for money but needing to catch a bus – I was reaching for my purse. As I gave him some coins, and chatted about where he was going on the bus, I stood up, making it obvious that I was getting ready to leave. That was another unconscious decision – it was only as I walked away that I realised I’d chosen to get up and leave. I guess instinct told me that that staying seated there was no longer an attractive option.

So that little interaction brought an abrupt end to my short-lived moment of pondering the layers of memories that were swirling around me as I walked the streets of Hobart. I never did quite see the ghost of my past, who may or may not still be hovering around on a park bench in Hobart.

Perhaps she didn’t want to be discovered.

Hobart, seen from a ferry on the Derwent river, Mt Wellington in the background.

Sunny Hobart, this week, from a ferry on the Derwent river, Mt Wellington in the background.

 

*

  • for those playing at home, the title of this post is a lyric from a song by New Zealand band Crowded House. The song is Four Seasons In One Day (which, I think it’s fairly safe to say, is an ode to Melbourne.)

A Hazy Shade of Winter (Sunday morning in Melbourne)

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me

yesterday morning it seemed I had such possibility

– where did the week go, please?

 

I look around, it makes me frown,

cos the kitchen is

still a mess from dinner

 

Hear the music of Grinderman

Blast from my stereo, I chop oregano

and marinate lamb

Carry a wine in my hand…

 

I look around, it makes me frown,

the sky is grey, it feels like it’s still winter

Hang on to your hopes my friend

It’s Melbourne 10am, might be warm by 2pm,

so simply pretend

the weekend won’t come to an end

 

I look around,

dishes piled high

they touch the sky

the dishwasher makes me cry***

 

Aaaah, the week flew by and little was achieved

Might as well be doing tapestry

Writing terrible poetry

Or just blogging to fill in time.

Funny how my memory slips,

looking over my manuscripts,

emails and silly rhymes.

Drinking my vodka and lime.

 

I look around, the internet’s down

and we need

a new cartridge for the printer

Look around, I’ve just found

cat vomit on the ground

Look around, it’s not profound

but this post’s the best I could expound.**

 

(location shown may not be Melbourne)

(Due to laziness, actual city depicted may not be Melbourne)

 

 

 

*Apologies to Simon and Garfunkle.

 

**I have cheated on a few levels with this post, as I first wrote it (or pretty much it – I’ve changed a few words) in 2011. That was back when no-one read this blog (except a handful of people who knew me). As I am short on ideas and can’t get inspired today, I’ve reblogged it – with a few alterations. Complaints may be sent to the PO box address at the top of the page.

 

***At the time that I wrote the original post, our dishwasher didn’t work. I wrote posts about that too, believe it or not.

 

Well I heard it on the radio

Ah words, and their slippery meanings.

Sometimes, exploring the meaning of a word can prompt some philosophical pondering – such as when I wrote a post about cool, in which (typically), I got caught up looking at the history of the word, it’s changing meaning since the late 19th century, and an attempt to analyse what cool means in contemporary times.

I came to the conclusion that cool is a word with a very fluid meaning, as it’s always open to interpretation, because cool is used in all sorts of ways within language, and at any point in history, different people will think that different things are cool. 

Cool can be used to describe an activity, but saying it’s cool is not the same as saying the activity is fun. In most cases it probably is fun, but it’s something else as well.

For example, I might think that listening to public radio is cool, while someone else might think that public radio is dull, and that listening to a commercial radio station that plays the Top 40 is cool. We would both be employing the concept of cool to mean, an activity that has currency and keeps us abreast of the music, issues, conversations and events that we want to know about. The funny thing is, we’d both be right. Cool can apply to different things, for different people.

Cool has become a replacement for value judgements about what is good, or right, in a moral sense. For example, you may think it’s totally cool for football supporters from all teams across Australia’s national Football League (AFL) to systematically band together week after week at matches, to boo a specific Indigenous football player, any time he makes contact with the ball, over the course of an entire season of football matches.

You may say that’s totally cool, and if you did, I’d interpret you to mean, not that it’s a great thing to happen, but that as far as you could see, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. You may agree with some of Australia’s deep thinkers, including ex-Cricketer Shane Warne, and shock-jock/singing canary Alan Jones, who have commented that being booed at is just a part of being a sports person.

Perhaps you think that it was really uncool of the player, Adam Goodes, to call out a football supporter who called him an ape during a game, a few years ago.* Perhaps you’d agree that Goodes is asking for it, and should toughen up. Perhaps the lack of sportsmanship that’s displayed by football fans in booing incessantly at one specific player every week doesn’t bother you – you’re cool with it and think that he, and everyone suggesting that it is racist behaviour, should just chill out.

But my idea of what is cool might differ from yours. I might think it’s incredibly uncool that anyone could continue to engage in that behaviour, (the booing) or defend those who continue to boo, and not see, or at least not admit to understanding that, even if the intention was not originally racist, that subjecting one specific Indigenous player to humiliating booing week after week just condones and empowers racist attitudes.

No doubt it’s true that some sports people do get booed, but when an Indigenous player with a record of standing up and calling out racism is being systematically targeted and booed at, I think there are some people booing for the wrong reasons, and too many other people falling over themselves to defend them.

Call me crazy, but when I hear anecdotes about people who have called out “go back to the zoo” or called Goodes an “ape,”  the picture I form of those people does not equate with my idea of cool.

So what is my idea of cool, as it’s used to describe a person, as if cool (or coolness?) is an intrinsic character trait? It appears that my personal interpretation is someone who is compassionate, and generous of spirit. The opposite to cool, therefore, would be someone who is mean-spirited and has no empathy for others. In that case, when describing character, perhaps the best antonym for the word cool is the word redneck.

Another quality that I admire, and think cool, is courage – particularly the variety required to be willing to stand out and be different, or to stand up for others who are unpopular.

In this sense, I think that the young Indigenous player, Lewis Jetta, who stood up for his team mate Goodes last week by performing a traditional Indigenous war dance after kicking a goal, showed great courage. It took courage to stand up for his colleague by doing something that was unpopular when Goodes did it (allegedly, a war dance performed by Goodes at the Indigenous AFL round in May was the catalyst for ramping up the booing he has been receiving ever since.) It’s courageous for someone in the very early years of their potential career as an AFL footballer to risk alienating fans. To me, the courage required means that was a very cool thing to do.  However, many commentators thought that Jetta’s wardance was confrontational, and questioned why he would exacerbate the situation by doing it. Clearly they did not think it was cool at all.

While writing this post, I looked back at footage of Jetta’s wardance, and then at footage of the wardance that Adam Goodes did. Watching, I thought both performances were cool, in and of themselves – completely aside from any courageous statement being made by the player.

But what do I mean when I say that the war dance was cool? Well, dance is an important part of Aboriginal culture, and these two men know how to skilfully execute some traditional moves. Watching the footage, this is what I saw: after kicking a football through a goal post, an athletic man, still running, does not slow down, but alters his gait, to incorporate rhythmical movements of the shoulders, arms and legs as he runs towards the fence, in such a way that it’s a dance while also mimicking running towards prey with a spear. It’s powerful and graceful and I think it’s cool to see such an expression of traditional Aboriginal culture that normally, as a white person, I’d have to go on a tour to the outback, or pay for a ticket for Bangarra Dance Theatre, to see.

Is the war dance confrontational? Well, yes, of course a war dance is confrontational. So is a Haka, a traditional Maori war dance. I’ve always thought the Haka was cool –  if you have never seen it, check out this clip on Youtube of New Zealand team the All Blacks doing a Haka before a Rugby match with France – it takes about 1 min 31 secs. You’ll see aggressively poked out tongues, and upraised fists being punched in the air. Again, it is cool because it is powerful and part of a traditional expression of culture.

Speaking of upraised fists, isn’t it common for most sportspersons to do an aggressive but celebratory air punch in the air while facing opponents, or opponents’ fans? – I’m picturing most tennis matches I’ve ever watched.

Usually, those kinds of “up yours” gestures are forgiven, or thought to be cool,  in that context, because it’s understood that the players are in a ‘zone’, that they have to stay in that zone to maintain their fierce competitiveness, that the actions are done spontaneously, and that they are done in a celebratory mode (probably even more so if the team or player has been losing up until that point.)

*

Some readers may think it is uncool of me to write about very specific, local/topical/political issues on a personal blog that is read by people who won’t have followed, or have any interest in, this very local story, but now and then, some attitudes in society bother me too much not to vent about them.

For those who know or care nothing for the very specific events described, I tried to also make this piece of writing an exploration of the many different shades of meaning given to the word cool.

So I hope that was cool with you.

*

*Well I heard it on the radio is the first line of the song Treaty, by Yothu Yindi.

*the fan who was kicked off the ground for calling Goodes an ape was a 13 year old girl, but I doubt that in the heat of the moment that Goodes heard her abuse and pointed her out, he was thinking about her age. (And doesn’t her young age make it worse in some ways?) Those who keep bringing this incident up as justification for why they don’t like Goodes conveniently ignore the footage from a press conference held the next day where he said that he was heartbroken to find out that she was so young, and that the person who needed help “through this” was “that little girl.”

 

The Centre Cannot Hold

I was about 6 or 7 the first time my mother was rushed to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown, so I don’t remember anything about it.

Her condition was referred to as a nervous breakdown for the convenience of everyone else. I was never one to question adults, and, at that age I was as likely question my father, or the other adults that promptly began to arrive at our house bearing casseroles, on the diagnosis, as I was likely to question them about the existence of God.

I thought that whatever adults told me was true, and as for what they didn’t tell me, I never thought of that at all.

When I was about 9 or 10, Mum was rushed to hospital again, with another nervous breakdown. For the adults around me, it must have been easy to believe in the convenience of a nervous breakdown, after all, by the time of the second one she had five children, with the nervous breakdowns occurring in both cases shortly after the births of numbers 4 and 5. She never had been a confident, capable person so it was easy to see a cause and effect.

*

Of course, you could question how I could know that my mother wasn’t very capable back then. I was not old enough to make that judgement. Even now, looking back, my store of memories from primary school days are a few unconnected scenes, that don’t reveal anything about my mother’s personality, abilities or confidence levels.

Memories from back then, with my mother in them: there’s Mum, breastfeeding a baby (my brother G), and me being told by a relative to leave the room. There’s Mum, swatting at a dragonfly that had got inside the house. I think Dad was away that night. There’s Mum, with a scarf tied over her curlers, having washed and set her hair as she did every Saturday afternoon, before baking scones.

An actor could play those scenes in many different ways – brimming with confidence and a sense of fun, filled with doubt and anxiety, or conveying listlessness and emotional removal. I cannot say how my mother played them.

All I can rely on is a pile of memories accumulated after these events, that, compiled, build up a sketchy picture of my mother’s personality and state of mind. Those memories are augmented by the way she describes herself when talking about the past. In any stories she tells us, she always describes herself, with some amusement, as hopeless and incompetent.

*

As I was so young, I remember little about my mother being hospitalised, just that we kids were shipped off to my mother’s sister. My aunt had about 7 kids then (she went on to have 9), so in taking us in, she had about 12 kids to look after. Unless this was during school holidays, (she was a teacher), she would have been working full time. Some of my cousins were a few years older than me, and in families like hers,  kids know how to make dinner for 12 people by the time they are about 10 years old, so I guess we ate many dinners of 2- minute noodles. As far as we were concerned, we were just having an extended holiday while Mum was in hospital.

My only other memory of those events is that after one of my mother’s trips in an ambulance, a friend and I developed a new game to play at lunchtime at school. We ran around on the asphalt playground, holding a basketball between us, making a noise like an ambulance siren. In case you are wondering, we were an ambulance and the basketball represented my mother.

Nothing was ever explained to me or my siblings about this when we were young, and it was only as I got older, that I began to suspect that nervous breakdown had been code for something else. Mum took regular medication that was linked with the issue that was never spoken of, and I knew that every second Friday afternoon she saw a psychiatrist. It was hard for my parents to hide this, because when we were younger, we’d have to wait outside the psychiatrist’s office in the car with Dad, while she had her appointment. Mum didn’t drive.

When I became old enough to question it, my private diagnosis was Depression. (There was no internet in those days, so I couldn’t look up the symptoms of clinical Depression. This was just a teenager’s interpretation.)

Depression, as I imagined it, seemed to explain Mum having trouble getting up in the morning, usually not making it out of bed until after the older kids, myself included, had already left for the bus. It seemed to explain arriving home from school at 4.30pm to find the blinds drawn and Mum asleep in bed, my younger siblings watching TV in the lounge room. Or to explain the dinners that were frequently ruined, because after putting vegetables on to boil, Mum would go back to bed, and the dinner would boil dry on the stove.

Blinds were often kept down, and my mother slept a lot.

Mum was hospitalised one more time for a nervous breakdown, when I was in high school, but in my memory it seems that occasion was less dramatic. Perhaps it didn’t involve a sudden departure in an ambulance. Maybe we visited her in hospital on that occasion. I can’t recall any detail. It seemed to have less of a coat of shame and silence than the earlier incidents, although that doesn’t mean that any more information about it was shared with us.

In any case, that was the last time Mum was hospitalised for a nervous breakdown. After that final hospitalisation, and the treatment that followed, other strange behaviours that we, as a family had been resigned to, dissipated, and we were able to feel a little more normal as a family. Back in those days, there was a huge stigma around mental illness – even more than today – and although we kids knew nothing about what was going on, I imagine I wasn’t the only kid who internalised a deep sense of shame that there was something about my Mum that was so mortifying and unthinkable that we couldn’t talk about it.

Since that time, I’ve learned bits and pieces about what my mother’s condition was, and more bits and pieces about how she was treated for it, but I will leave that for another post, because all of this was actually inspired by a line from a poem that I haven’t even got to yet.

*

A little while ago I wrote a post that was partly about poetry, and since then I’ve meant to come back to that topic.

Recently I went to a gig in Melbourne that was a tribute to the poet W.B. Yeats. Various musicians did sets, performing songs that included lines from Yeats’ poems or were in some way inspired by them. I have never studied Yeats, so didn’t expect to be familiar with any of his poetry, but I liked the idea of a rock gig paying tribute to a poet, an Irish one at that. The decider, however, was that in the background of the ad for this gig, I could hear a song being sung by a musician I like, David Bridie, and it was the words that captured my attention: the centre cannot hold.

I must have heard this song before, having been a big fan of bands that Bridie was in years ago, but I’d forgotten about it. Hearing that simple fragment of a sentence this time, I was compelled to look up the poem.  It’s called The Second Coming, and these are the first four lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

These lines are up there with the lines from Macbeth that make the hairs on my arms stand up. In those lines, Yeats successfully conveys a fatalistic sense similar to the one that Shakespeare conveys (earlier) in Macbeth – that the natural order of things has been broken, and Man (in Shakespeare’s case, Macbeth) has lost any sense of control. In Yeats’ poem, Nature has taken back the reigns and cannot be controlled by man – anarchy reigns. Yeats, and Bridie, use the line to refer to an inability to control elements of the external world – Bridie’s lyrics, and the clip for the song, are about war and its victims, countries being torn apart, and people being displaced from their homes.

When I read Yeats’ poem, or hear David Bridie sing those lyrics, the centre cannot hold conveys those meanings about the outside world, man, nature, and the struggle for power. But taken out of context, and heard, or read, on its own, the line holds another meaning for me. It’s not about the outside world, it’s about the internal world. It’s about how unstable our sense of self can be. Its about how for some people, it can be a struggle to contain that within them, that sense of who they are. It can be fragmented or lost, the boundaries between self and other unclear.

It reminds me that when the health of someone with a mental illness is deteriorating, they gradually lose, or are incapable of caring about, our usual sense of social boundaries, that sense of holding it all in for show. It makes me think of someone much like my mother.

 

clip from timcolesoundart

Gonna change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex

Dear reader, just to keep you wondering, I have rebranded.

If you are a regular reader, you may have subscribed some time ago to a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and been happy enough with that, only to suddenly today received in your inbox, or discover in the feed on your Reader, a post from a site called Blathering About Nothing.

The funny thing is, I don’t even have a Marketing Manager, nor have I hired an online consultancy firm who has advised me to rebrand. I just have myself and my usual uncertainty, and my tendency to be unsure about the choice I made 4.5 years ago for what would be a public “image.”

Unfortunately for me, through lack of planning a strategic marketing campaign at the time of my birth, as well as the non-existence of a public profile that I could capitalise on by changing my name to one word and incorporating a dollar sign or hashtag into it, I hadn’t realised that I was a brand when I set up my blog. Now, 4 1/2 years later, my poor blog has a split personality.

When I decided to start blogging, I agonised for weeks over what to call my blog, umming and aahing over possible names for weeks, until my main impetus was to just bloody well pick a name and get writing. I had a list of names in a notebook, so I picked one out: Is That Coffee? Thus the url: isthatcoffee.wordpress.com

(How did I come up with that? Well this all happened during a period when I had given up drinking coffee – I’ve since fallen off that particular wagon – and probably had a lot of spare time on my hands from all those cups of coffee I wasn’t making or drinking.) I guess I thought that was kind of amusing, because it implied that I was slightly hysterical about coffee – and left it pretty open as to what I would write about.

Only days after creating the blog, I came up with a name I liked a lot more – It Keeps Me Wondering. I liked it because it implied that I’d be writing about what I was thinking about, rather than what I was doing. My ideas, rather than my life, if you like.

So I changed the name to It Keeps Me Wondering, but didn’t change the url. Once my blog started to get a few regular followers, I wished I’d changed the url to match, but I’ve continually been too scared to take that step because it sounds like there is a risk of breaking links and losing followers. So I had a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and a url address that didn’t match, and meanwhile I wrote my first few posts.

Soon I wrote two posts inspired by some plays by Samuel Beckett, a literary hero of mine:

Blathering About Nothing in Particular, and Blathering About Nothing in Particular, Part 2.

These were named after a line from Waiting for Godot:

…yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That’s been going on now for half a century.*

Beckett’s minimalistic plays from the 1950s-60s have almost no action in the traditional sense, and often cross-examine the meaning, or absence of meaning, in language, and by extension, in life, through seemingly absurd dialogues, or monologues. His characters often make reference to the fact that their conversation is both repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

The irony in that concept seemed to fit perfectly with the idea of me, sitting alone writing a blog which would no doubt often be repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

Inspired by this idea, I then changed my user name to Blathering, and the default category for posts, when I’m just writing rubbish, to Blathering About Nothing. I’ve often thought about changing the name of the blog to Blathering About Nothing, in a little homage to Beckett, and also a humorous nod to essentially the same thing – that the blog is about ideas, anything and everything, and essentially, nothing. I like the self-deprecating inference and it also feels very Irish, which is my heritage. The only reason I haven’t is, as I said, uncertainty, and fear of causing confusion for followers.

But it seems that I’ve committed one of the worst sins possible in the world of creating an online presence, which was to have a blog title, a url, and an online “identity” that were all mismatched.

A while back I wrote a post about a book I read, that references contemporary television shows, to illustrate the philosophies behind Pre-Modern, and Modern thought, and the self-imposed problems Modern thought creates. The fundamental difference was around the concept of identity – in Pre-Modern thought, what we did constituted our identity, in Modern thought, what we do only reflects our identity.

So today I spent time pondering the ultimate Modern dilemma of identity:  how many different online profiles do I have now, and should I be trying to consolidate some of them? And, if my online profiles are identity-reflecting, what does it say about me that my blog alone has about 3 different identities?  These matters are, as you can see, of grave importance in the great chain of being.

In the world of social media, having a “consistent brand” is the golden chalice to aim for. It seems to be becoming our primary obligation. Certain human beings are now often referred to as a “brand”, particularly if they go by only one name, or even better, if the media have managed to merge their name with their partner’s name to form one catchy name, as if they are the same being, ie, Brangelina. (If you are not sure who that is, congratulations! You win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Brangelina mansion.)

As if  I have not created enough random chaos by having a blog with an identity crisis, I’ve also delved into Facebook, where I am myself, and into Twitter, where I have a profile that is “me” where I tweet about the arts, or social justice issues that I think are important, as well as a Twitter profile as Blathering, the author of this blog. (@_Blathering)

So in summary, after reading a book about the dilemmas of Modern thought, I had one of my own and as a result, finally made a decision.  Now, at least, the name of the blog, my gravatar, the theme of “blathering” that runs through the blog, and my (second) Twitter account, all match up. Phew!

The long list of things that keep me wondering should hopefully now be shorter by one item.

*

Stay tuned for the next episode where we discuss whether I should make the following changes:

a. Change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex?

b. Change my shorts

c. Change my life

d. Change into a 9 year old Hindu boy, get rid of my wife?

*

 

*the line from Waiting for Godot is said by Estragon, to Vladimir, p.66 in my very old copy.

*the changes above are not really under serious consideration at this point in time. They are lyrics stolen from the great Modern philosopher, Tom Waits, from his albums Goin’ Out West, and Step Right Up.

*Hidden somewhere in this post is the Twitter handle of my personal account – but in keeping with my truly non-strategic approach to social media, it doesn’t have anything to do with any of the other “identities” mentioned here.

Waiting for the great leap forward

On a day off from work, it is not uncommon that my sole aim for the day, from the moment I get up, is that I will write a post on my blog.

Hmm, on second thought, perhaps sole aim is not quite the right term to use there – I fear that makes it sound like I swan around on my days off, with so little else to do that I really should give the servants a raise, and take up Decoupage.

I did have other goals for the day – if you count all the boring things like phone an electrician about the fan in the bathroom, vaccuum the floors, pick up kid and grocery shopping!!! – but write a post is the creative goal that will make my day feel worthwhile – something that grocery shopping and vacuuming will not achieve, worthy pursuits though they may be.

Each time I plan to write a post on my blog, I hope that it will be a good piece of writing, that it might even be the best piece of writing I’ve posted here so far. Each time I publish I post, I am certain that I fall short of that mark, but nevertheless, I do still get satisfaction from achieving the goal of the doing, and the posting.

After such an introduction, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that today is one of those days, a day where my sole aim has been to sit down and write a post on my blog – and here I am, starting this post at 5.08pm. That doesn’t bode well for producing a high quality piece of writing to post by tonight, since, as we all know, 5pm is the point on any day off where time starts to accelerate. Evidence suggests that the acceleration effect is even more pronounced when you have to work the following day.*

On a day off, the morning is delightfully slow, particularly if you indulge yourself by sitting in the wintery morning sun, drinking an extra cup of tea and reading your book while the laundry is washing. Early afternoon eventually rolls around, and gently nudges you into recalling that you better pick up the pace and finish off those chores if you want that image of yourself sitting by the window writing in the afternoon sun to have any chance of becoming a reality.

Lo and behold, after you’ve done the grocery shopping, put groceries away, made the marinade, prepared dinner ready to be cooked, and answered a few emails, it’s 5pm. Cue that sinking feeling, because you know that time is going to speed up from here, and the next thing you know you’ll have cooked and eaten dinner, cleaned up, had a glass or 2 of of wine, and it will be 11pm and you”ll still be plugging away at that post because you’re so determined to post it today – even though you have to be up at 6.30am and really should be in bed.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s the point where I frequently end up publishing my post, whatever stage it’s at, despite misgivings that it’s not my best piece of writing ever, and in fact a fear that it’s really a very mediocre piece of writing indeed.

Still, the upside is that I do gain a sense of satisfaction from getting the writing done and posted, and thus achieving that goal.

A lot of advice to writers highlights the importance of plugging away and just doing it, and by doing so, forming a habit of writing, and that certainly fits with the contentment I feel in getting a post written and published, even when I sometimes wish I’d written something far more memorable, insightful, witty, intelligent, or (insert praiseworthy adjectives of your own preference here.)

So the good news for me, and people in a similar dilemma, is that today there is apparently an extra second in the day. Yes, on June 30 in the Northern Hemisphere, or July 1 down here where we are always slightly ahead of you all, we had a Leap-Second.* I am not sure how it escaped my attention up to this point in my life, but apparently ever since 1972, Coordinated Universal Time is adjusted by a second every now and then (approximately every 3 years) to keep time with the Earth’s rotation, which is apparently irregular.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who's regular and who's not.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who’s regular and who’s not.

Pic: Fact Monster

Now that I’ve discovered the existence of the leap second, not only am I enjoying all the extra time I have on my hands this afternoon, I’m putting it to good use by reading about the leap second. I needed a topic for my post, see, and although this may have seemed like it was a post about writing posts, that little bit of navel-gazing was just a ploy to lead into the topic of the leap second. Or is the topic of the leap second a ploy to pad out a post about writing a post? Well, dear reader, you can decide for yourself, when (or if) you reach the end. (for those who don’t reach the end, please don’t write in to ask what happened.)

Firstly, it’s impressive – when you consider all the seconds that have ticked by since the Big Bang occurred – and let me assure you, there have been quite a few of them, – that this particular second gets to be singled out with a name. Admittedly it is not a proper name, but nevertheless, a categorical name.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

Imagine if we decided to name (even categorically) every second. For a start, we’d have to think of names that could be said in less than a second, so obviously we’d be looking for one syllable words for names – eg,  Jeb, Dan, Syd, Bip, Bam and Pow. We’d also need to think up the names in fractions of seconds, and we’d need to have our Second Naming Department staff do nothing else but think up and name seconds, 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24/7. No toilet breaks. Obviously to undertake this endeavour we’d need a large team of rotating staff and a large supply of speed.

Who even suggested that idea? Clearly naming every second would be an outright waste of taxpayers money. Let’s get back to the second in question – the leap second.

The leap second does not have the upper case status of a proper noun, but nevertheless I enjoy the many references online to the leap second as a noun that needs to be dealt with. I have decided to picture it as Coordinated Universal Time’s equivalent of a little green frog. (which would make the Leap Year a large, ugly, overgrown toad.)

It seems the humble little leap second manages to generate controversy. The Wikipedia entry on the leap second (linked above) has a section devoted to the  Proposal to Abolish Leap Seconds. What – no! Yes, Reader, I’m afraid so. It also has a section entitled Examples of problems associated with the leap second. (I note the careful wording, whereby Wikipedia avoids saying that the problems are “caused by” the leap second, in order to avoid being sued by the leap second. It’s not so cute when it’s mad.) There is also a section on Workaround for leap second issues, which may be useful if your mobile device is telling you that it’s still June 30. (or perhaps you’re just in L.A. and it IS still June 30.)

The poor old leap second. Soon we’ll be reading articles about how it’s been misunderstood and neglected, and then soon after that, articles on its impending extinction.

So there was an extra second today, and that extra second has led to this post. To wrap up, I thought it might be nice to pretend that this was always the plan: here is a list of things that happened in that extra second today*:

– a snail moved approximately 0.1 mm

– a bee beat its wings 270 times

-light travelled all the way from the moon into our range of vision here on earth

– 4 babies were born

-2 people died

-neurons in my brain transmitted a response after I read an article about leap seconds; that led to this post.

 

*

 

 

*references for the list of things that happened within that second:

Top Ten Incredible Things

Ecology Global Network

Space.com

 

X will mark the place

Lovers of poetry may gasp, but I will admit right here that while I am a fan of theatre, books, music, visual art, and just about any form of the arts, I generally do not seek out, or expect to get a lot out of, contemporary poetry, of the traditional variety. By traditional I mean, poetry presented as a written text, for example in a literary magazine or highbrow newspaper – as opposed to a spoken word performance, which to me feels like a whole other artform.

Generally, and very unfairly, when I come across contemporary poetry by accident – which does happen – I expect it to be obscure, or indulgent, or both, and when I see a poem printed in a newspaper or magazine, I will simply turn the page to read the next story. I know this is unfair of me. When I studied poetry in Year 12 English Literature, and discovered Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, I was totally inspired, even to the point of writing my own poems, as all 17 year old girls do. Unfortunately, I liked poetry so much that I took poetry as an elective at uni the following year, where, sad to say, I was far less inspired – my memories are of interminable lectures about Alexander Pope, and what he wrote, I cannot tell you. (Now that I’ve remembered that, I blame Melbourne University for my suspicious approach to poetry.)

It’s hard for all forms of the Arts to compete for attention in a world where people are constantly plugged in and listening to podcasts, watching Youtube clips and reading their friends’ status updates on Facebook, on their mobile phone on their way to work. So it’s particularly hard to understand how Poetry, an artform that has been around since the ancient Greeks and Chinese were wooing lovers and hailing conquering heroes, an unobtrusive, pared-back artform that relies entirely on the internal landscape of the reader’s imagination for any accompanying loud noises, pretty colors or handsome character in the main role, can still expect to fight for a portion of that audience.

(If Poetry had any thoughts at all on the matter, I guess it would first turn up its hearing aid, and then agree that it has passed its prime but is quite enjoying its twilight years.)

Yet while I mostly avoid reading poetry, at the same time, I’ll readily listen to song lyrics, and be quite willing to ponder the possible meaning contained within, if they are obscure and hard to fathom. It seems that I’m able engage with lyrics the way I do with visual art, that is, by taking the approach that it’s up to me, the viewer/listener, to make my own meaning from the work when the meaning does not seem clear, and that there is no right or wrong answer.  In some cases, where lyrics seem nonsensical, I’m even willing to imagine that the songwriter was just having fun with words, and perhaps had no other intention beyond that.

Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
Come and listen while we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
The Clancy Brothers*

Music has its own power, but there is a kind of chemical reaction that results when the perfect combination of some simple words, music that captures the right mood, and the human voice are put together. When that happens, even contemporary rock music has the potential to achieve the pinnacle that art is capable of, in my opinion. That is, that it’s capable of giving us a momentary glimpse of something deep within ourselves that also connects us to the universe (through shared experience with the human condition). I’ve written before about the shiver that runs down my spine when I hear, or read, Macbeth’s final soliloquy. That particular shiver is one of awe, in recognition of the insignificant smallness of human life, in relation to the unimaginable eternity of the universe.

Sometimes when listening to a song, a line jumps out at me that causes a similarly tangible response. Often that response is a sense of sadness, or poignancy – a particular line that captures something I have experienced, or something I have lost, or the grief I felt at the death of my younger brother. It’s a very personal response so I’m aware that the same line may mean nothing to another listener, and quite possibly meant something completely different to the person who wrote it, but in that moment of emotional recognition, it is of no importance whether my interpretation of the line is what the songwriter meant by it.

The example I have in mind today is a song by Radiohead, from the album Hail To The Thief – yes, the album I was addicted to about 2 months ago. You’ll be pleased to know that in-between, I did stop listening to it for a while.

The song is Where I End And You Begin. Lyrics are as follows:

There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin
And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin

I am up in the clouds
I am up in the clouds
And I can’t and I can’t come down
I can watch and cant take part
Where I end and where you start
Where you, you left me alone
You left me alone

X’ll mark the place
Like the parting of the waves
Like a house falling in the sea
In the sea

I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There are no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x3]

 

Now, I really don’t know what Thom Yorke had in mind when he wrote this, and any interpretation I can give it doesn’t quite add up – for example if I was to suggest that some of the lyrics could be spoken by someone missing a loved person who has died Where you, you left me alone, then the earlier lyric I am up in the clouds doesn’t make sense – that sounds like the person who has died speaking. And what can I make of the last lines, I will eat you alive, there are no more lies? – I have no idea. For purposes of writing this post, I prefer not to look up the various websites where people spend time analysing lyrics, and do as my English Literature teacher advised me to do when responding to a text –  give my own interpretation.

So whatever is meant by the song as a whole, if anything is, I don’t know, but theme of separation, ending, and possibly death in the earlier section of the song mean that when I first heard Thom’s ethereal voice sing the line,  X’ll mark the place, I felt a jab at my heart. I don’t care what interpretation anyone else gives the song, or the line, but that line gave voice to a new thought for me: that an imaginary X will mark forever the place where my brother died, and another X will mark the place where I was when I heard that he had died. I guess those imagined X’s mark in my mind the physical place where we separated forever.

*

This post was meant to continue on, as I was going to tie this all back into poetry, and how there are plenty of beautiful lines in contemporary music that have been borrowed from poems. I did start down that track, but the post was getting too long, so I think I will end this here.

So stay tuned for part 2, where I admit that what I said in this post is not entirely correct, that there are poems I do like (at least from the canon of poems written up to about 1960, I haven’t studied any poetry more contemporary than that) and that there are lines from poetry that do exactly the same thing, ie, jump out at me and suddenly bring a tear to my eye. It’s just that those are often brought to my attention courtesy of a contemporary musician, who works them into their music.

So bless those poets for plugging away at their craft.  Maybe those ancient Greeks were onto something.

*

 

*Have I ever mentioned that I grew up listening to my dad’s Clancy Brothers albums? I’m sure there was a song that went “O, ro di diddly dum, o ro di diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum.” (I could sing that if you like.) Now we see where Ned Flanders got his inspiration from.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,519 other followers

%d bloggers like this: