X — This isn’t my natural line of work
As I mentioned, this isn’t my natural line of work. I just fell into it. I had a knack for getting things out of people that they wouldn’t or couldn’t normally say to other people. I could nod a couple of times and murmur at just the right place, throw back some mirror like experience or provide a space the other person could see themselves in. Then they’d be off full tilt telling about the time they’d shat off the end of the bed in the middle of the night, too scared to cross the corridor in the dark. They tell me about that time when the Father was out with his friends and had left the study door unlocked. It was generally inconsequential but somehow had got entangled with an elaborate explanation of why they were what they were. They would talk and then feel a little better for as long as it lasted. They had been told or read or heard that this was the thing to do, so why not? And it made me feel like I was important. Or rather, that I was doing something useful.
Let’s get the story straight. It was about as useful for ninety eight percent of them as a paper hat in a rainstorm. A non-plasticized, made out of yesterday’s newspaper folded in a triangle. Hat. Monsoon type rain. Admittedly: one or two seemed to find some more permanent value. They would occasionally ring after a year or two or write a complicated letter charting all the plot convolutions that in the end just amounted to: it helped a bit. I would sit and listen. And try not to give advice or tell them of the things that were buzzing through my head on a parallel track. Like how, just an hour before you arrived, I had been sat out back and gazing through the heat haze to the hills across the other side of the low valley and a small brown bird mistook me for a bush or a tree and landed for a second on my knee. Before coming to its senses and without even having seemed to have twitched its wings disappeared and reappeared on a genuine bush about four feet from my right hand side. It sat on the closest branch. Watching me out its right eye. It hopped round to watch me out of its left eye. It lingered, I assumed in my retelling, trying to make sense of the fact that it had nearly fucked up big time. I couldn’t tell people that sort of thing. They’d take it as a sign: what I am really telling you is not about a bird but about the spooky oneness that connects you and all things and which means you don’t have to worry. Or: what I am really telling you is that life is something you tolerate at best, and you have to watch out for those rare moments of serenity that seem to come along out of nowhere. Stop and bracket off the shit for just a moment and be at one with the bird. The truth, at least the truth in my version, is that the bird had indeed made a potentially very big mistake and that was about it. But it panned out okay for him this time. Next time he might land on a big black male cat.
The one time I had explicitly given advice ended in the guy getting turned into a lasagna by a passing car. A big, new, deep red saloon car. After many many months of hearing him tell me how boring life was, how nothing ever happened, his fantasies for a better life and so on, I decided to try and break the impasse by trying something new. I had indeed heard him. It was a classic case of life being lived over there; not over here. That is to say: that’s how it was for him. I doubted that his life was any less or more than one could hope for. At best. Nonetheless: I stopped him one day dead in his tracks. Mid-sentence. I said something like this: stop. Just stop a moment. Look at where you’re sat. Look at the rug in front of you. Look at the sparks jumping around the fire. There’s more here to wonder at than you need for a whole year! There’s enough here to preoccupy you for two years! Look at the rug. Follow the weave of brown wool to where it meets the red. Don’t you wonder who did that? When it was made? Look at the logs stacked by the fire. You see that drying moss on the end of the middle log? You see the drying cracks where they’ve been stacked for a couple of years? Don’t you wonder what is behind them? Moss underneath? A louse down in the bark, which you can’t see. The point is, I told the man, the questions are all here and so are the answers. It’s all detail. You just got to stop and let it all join up. Actually, I reflected on this insitu, as it were: just stick with the questions. Delay the orgasm, so to speak.
The man stared at the rug. Then he stared at the firewood. He followed the sparks as they danced around around before fading back into the ash. His pupils dilated to take in the full form of the room’s extant textures, lines, curves, shadows. Yes, he said. I see it. The point I was trying to make is that it’s all here. Just like I told him. All the wonder you need and wherever you are. You just need to let it all sink in. It can trigger deeper questions, if you like. But it always provides the answer too.
Next time I saw the man he was grinning a loon post-epiphany grin. He had spent the entire week noticing things that had always been there, but now he was looking for them and joining up the dots into the big picture. So it went for a couple of months. Every week he’d turn up bang on time and tell me what he’d seen. None of this surprised me. I could explain it.
One day I took my own advice: I watched the old guy who lived next door shuffle down his garden path and stop, I imagine, just to take a moment out to notice and reflect. I projected into him my fear of loss. Nostalgia. Memories evoked. He may have been doing the same; remembering the past and all the different versions which never came about. He may just have been so out of breath from the effort of making the fifty meters from his porch that the old guy needed a rest. I watched him for maybe three minutes as he just stood there, slightly bent over, bad back, walking stick. Then I called out to him and he came back to the here and now. We spoke about a cat he’d seen. The weather.
I didn’t see the man I had given the advice to again. I heard in a roundabout way some time later that he had been squashed by a big red car and mostly smeared down the street. A passer-by had reported to the police: yeh! I saw the guy. He was walking along no problem, he walked right up past me, turned up and noticed the billboard above the store opposite to where we were. I followed his eyes up. He said something like ‘wow’, to himself I guess, and then just stepped forward once. Maybe to get a closer look. I don’t think he even clocked the road. Never saw the car. That was it.
As I said: this isn’t my natural line of work. I’m not a good listener any more. When we tell a story, we construct a narrative form for our experiences; positioning actors in time and space to give order and meaning to how we imagine these elements relate to each other stories, or rather the narrative act of stitching together images, affects, sensations and so on as they come to us, we would be unable to develop what you might call a ‘self; instead left without meaning in a disconnected morass you couldn’t even call a world. No heroes. No villains. No understanding of sex and love.
Trouble with stitching things together is twofold. The fabric we weave inevitably contains gaps and at some point we have to begin with a new thread. As with this fabric, our narratives also contain gaps, inconsistencies and re-beginnings. Reality is predicated on discontinuity. It has a tendency to unravel. That’s why you’ve got to work so hard. Constructing a narrative, rather than pointing towards a ‘truth’ or the reality of a situation or history, only serves to obfuscate and conceal this reality from us; providing instead: what? A palatable, normalized version of the world. No monsters at the end of the long field. Nothing to fear. Trouble is: the self is our most valuable fabric and our most important illusion. It depends not only on the stability of our own stories but also of the stories we are born into, adopt and weave into our own. As far as I can tell, these bigger stories are all turning to shit. Amongst other things, they’re saturated with pictures. Millions and billions of pictures from a billion billion cameras relentlessly snapping away here and there at that and this and whatever. The importance of pictures for the stories we weave is without question and the ‘pleasure’ associated with looking is partly instinctual. But when there’s so many!
We leave trails everywhere we go. What the fuck can you do! The bottom line: each time we stare at a picture the picture stares back and in the image, in the act of looking, is an awareness of our self as just simple object. As an object for the other. Nothing to us that the universe troubles over. It is the apparent integrity or wholeness of an image which threatens us in various ways such as: the anxiety of being an object for every other fucker that stares back at us breaks us down into a billion billion tiny fragments. Even the buildings stare back. So do the hills. The anxiety of coming to realize you’re an object separate from other objects just makes your self that little bit more fragile.
This is about an image of a girl with bloodied head and face, skin, black hair and jumper layered with white dust. The blood appears vivid, dense. And the dust provides the girl with an already corpse-like countenance. The girl looks into the camera. The basket is still in her hand. We experience the abject. And somebody somewhere is raising awareness. Of what? Nothing. We lose the distinction between self and other. It’s strange. On the one hand we had no direct knowledge of the boy. On the other we were able to imagine such things based on abstractions from experience and learning and so forth. However, once we begin to incorporate abstractions into our beliefs about reality, what reality is gets a little more uncertain. But all of our engagement with and beliefs about reality involve the same uncertainty. Some people have no problem believing in the reality of the far side of the moon and yet they struggle to believe in a world before humans inhabited by dinosaurs, when what is in issue in both cases are similar questions about scale, albeit geographical in the former and temporal in the latter. But, he goes on, the blood doesn’t look real and we find ourselves wondering whether it was an afterthought; an add-on. Is your questioning of this a defensive response; a denial of the reality of the blood? I point out that the frame is cropped both in its spatial dimensions and in time. We can’t tell what came before, what occurred after and neither can we see what is just out of shot at the moment the image was taken. We see behind the camera, behind the scene at the person wielding it or what has happened to bring the cameraperson to this place and in position to take the shot. That means we have to fill in those gaps and yet we find that we can’t or don’t want to; it’s more palatable if the picture stays in a grey area between reality and art. In this grey area we don’t have to confront the implications of what either version says about ourselves or the Society we are involved in. Whatever is felt: fantasy maintains a distance between us and it. But that in itself is troubling.