Monday, 21 December 2020

Shit, sugar, surrealism

 A couple of weeks ago I responded to a Guardian poll asking readers to sum up 2020 in a single word and the results were published today.  My own word was 'surreal', but the wisdom of that particular crowd shone through and the consensus word, by a long margin, is 'shit'. 

The surreality of daily life remains a consistent experience for me. There is always this mismatch if not collision between what's going on right here and now, where I am, and what's happening in other places: new records for disease and death are being set and broken daily in the self-destructive fallen empire states, but here, right now, I sit looking out through a stand of bamboo at birds crossing a gently darkening sky, breath deep and easy, body pleasantly tired, awash in peace, solitude, the clean delicate bliss of complex shifting palettes of coloured light, and the luxury of perfect music and a mind ready to hear and receive it. The hardships of the past months - not over, I could not get out of bed on Thursday, I just lost it with everything - for me and most of us in Australia are the consequence of preventative measures not of the virus itself. So they are a kind of theatre. An aesthetic experience; you have to keep on telling yourself it's happening, if you want to stay out of trouble.

I went to work today, and almost the first thing that happened was a colleague called out my name across the empty visitor hall. I walked to the desk and she handed me three wrapped gifts; two boxes and one round tin of Cadbury Roses, all from volunteers and all necessitating a straightfaced entering of gift source and value onto the gifts register devised to weed out corruption among civil servants. I don't need that kind of sugar in my life so I carried them to the office and left them all on the communal lunch table by the big window, looking a sad shadow of its former invitation-to-gregariousness self with just the dismal overly symbolic stage dressing of a big sticky bottle of gross cheap hand sanitiser, two chairs where there used to be nine, and surrounded by dead office plants. Surrealism, always the lesser, bourgier, more shit expression of the dislocative effects of modernity. As I rode to work I thought Today I could properly clear out my desk and my locker in the changing room, and then next year bring in fresh everything - sunscreen, lens cleaner, soap, towels, deodorant, changes of underwear, headache pills, coffee grounds, muesli, hair elastics, all these things I seem to need. I opened the drawers in my desk and felt overcome with confusion at the variety and volume of forgotten objects crammed in there; a cardigan I had completely forgotten about, shoes, a biography of Edmund Campion, a plastic bag full of tiny dirty military ribbons and buttons and motheaten cloth patches, useless foreign coins, tissue paper, coloured blocks of oven-harden modeling clay, an empty jewelery box, an empty plastic kimchi pot, notebooks, umbrellas, knee-high stockings, a hat (but not the favourite one, the one I lost). I shut the drawer leaving all of it undisturbed inside, forever presumably. There were ten bottles of wine on my desk, left there by departmental Santa for me and the education staff. I've brought home two. I think I will need to go to work most of the time next year, regulations permitting. It's getting too heavy and weird here working by myself. Happy as anything to live here by myself but working here as well is not how I want to spend my life. I appreciated the normality of the workplace today, even though it's really not terrifically normal anymore.


R.H. said...

Greetings Miss Laura, I have the accidental pleasure of wishing you a Merry Christmas on the day. I enjoyed reading this post, "the lesser bourgier, more shit expression of the dislocative effects of modernity" threw me a bit, but I was impressed by how the flat style complemented what was being said. There are some good poetics as well.
I would have eaten those choccies myself, I'm ashamed to say, but as a child presents were scarce and so I'm now reluctant to be offhand about it.

PS: I tried to type this on my phone but it's ten times more difficult. Thanks for the post.

lucy tartan said...

Thanks, RH; as for the post, you're welcome. I have always been sorry to hear of the fragments you've shared of your difficult childhood and I hope you made a better life for yourself despite it. It is hard to shake off what happens when were children but it can be done.

I was touched by the fact of the gifts. I wrote 48 newsletters to the Shrine's volunteers this year and did various other things for them, as a group and as individuals, to try to keep them connected, and it was hard work much of the time. I was moved the ways some of them acknowledged those efforts. But I just can't have that volume of overly sweet sticky chocolate in my house, not at the moment anyhow. I'd make myself really ill.

R.H. said...