Thursday, March 5, 2009

Woman in Transit

Three times in the past week I have left my home with the possibility of never seeing it again.
Everyone in Australia and many people elsewhere will know about the fires: a 46 degree centigrade day, winds of up to 80 kilometers an hour, 2000 homes lost, 210 dead and many more still missing. In the very small country town where I live it has been the only topic since February 7th.
We were very lucky on that day. There but for the grace of cigarette butt, lighting strike or capricious arsenist go we.
The only fire that threatened us came two weeks later and could be seen from the town up over the hills sending a column of smoke like a frozen tornado up up into the sky. That day was still and hot. No wind, thank goodness to speed the fire that consumed the candle-barks at the end of the many thousands of hectares of forest between us and it.
Rufus was safe. He was evacuated with the family who baby-sit him on a Monday. Tim and I waited in Greendale for word that it was safe to go in and get the dogs.
We are good at this now. We have a list and don't even need to check it twice. Decisions have been made - what stays, what goes. On that Monday though, it was our first time and I couldn't think clearly. Tim had to stop me walking around with a carved Chinese bone in my hand to say " Did you get formula for the baby?"
Now all the practical items fit neatly into the trailer: fire-kits, chainsaw, rake-hoe, clothes, formula, water, nappies and so forth. All of the things that for some reason or another I have decided I can't live without are packed in a ute box: photographs of course, the carved Chinese bone, a small package of 19th century medicine labels that say "It is dangerous to exceed the stated dose", a glass embossed jar "Pink Pills for Pale People", the egg that I etched for Tim with four hands in an ambulance carry grip with a ribbon moniker- 'Hold Fast', my favourite bunsen burner, a limited edition leather bound copy of 'The Morbid Anatomy of the Human Body'...
As I hitched the trailer this last time I did what I have done each time we leave - I mentally burned everything that was left behind. All the books, art, clothes, the hat collection, Rufus's funny wooden toys, the bedside cabinet with trick drawer handle that says "This is not a drawer...". All of it black ash and blobs of melted plastic and metal.
What was odd about that experience was how empty it felt. No emotion, no tears. Just a simple exercise in possibility.
"Maybe this is what will happen" I seemed to be telling myself to see how it would feel.
"And maybe it doesn't matter one jot" was the surprising answer.
I was reminded of a song by Peggy Lee:
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then lets keep dancing
Lets break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all
There is.
Now I am home again and I can feel the connections casting out around me like skeins of spider thread. The handmade quilt, the portrait in oil, that dress - the one with the jet beads - how could I have thought I wouldn't miss them?
I'm a collector. I always thought it was in my blood. I suspect now though it is the objects that own me, not the other way around. When I am near them I fall under their spell and I think - "Ah, yes.. this is who I am."
Without them to moor me what do I become?
It occurs to me that I could be anybody.
I could be just somebody towing a trailer. I could be just another traveler.
I could just be a woman in transit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Terra Incognita

I don't remember many of my dreams. I am sure that a large proportion of them are not worth remembering, being the bubble-and-squeak re-hash of the days' detritus.
Two nights ago, however, I had a corker:

I am a policewoman - an investigative officer. I have just finished a grueling case, the pursuit of which caused a fellow officer to be injured. I have decided I need a career change.
I arrive at the office of a career counsellor. The office looks like triage at a hospital. I tell the staff that I am here for career counseling. They tell me I am mistaken - I am really here for a 'healing'.
This dismays me. I don't like that voodoo hoodoo, chanting, hippy rubbish. I want some sensible advice.
Despite my protestations I am led to a white ward room, stripped of my clothes and laid out on what is unmistakably a dissecting table. Two men who look suspiciously disheveled and hairy for doctors enter the room. They lay wreaths and bouquets of flowers on all the parts of my body. They place my hands and my feet in water.
The healing begins and I am swept into a fog. Just before I wake from the dream I hurtle out of the fog into the stark ward where I am doubled over, vomiting uncontrollably and staring into the image of a giant and malevolent octopus.


Now, we could all get excited and run away with complex theories about my troubled psyche (which I've already done, believe me) but what really interests me about this dream is the artistry of it.

It's going to sound a little conceited but WOW!
What confidence! What symbolism! What deft economical brushstrokes that have realized a creation which leaves the audience with such rich material to work with and the space to be the artists of their own meaning and interpretation.
There's the police officer (power? control? Concerned only with evidence?)
The dissecting table and the flowers (cutting below the surface? death? a wake for dissociated limbs and skin?)
Then there's the octopus... (Do any of you happen to know Hokusai's 'Dream of the Fisherman's Wife' ?)

The most bizarre thing about this dream for me is that even though it emanated from my brain, I AM the audience.
I have no idea who made that dream, but I'd love to meet them.

For a while I was obsessed with Philosophy of Mind, which is about mental events and functions and how they relate to the body (as distinct from Theory of Mind which is about understanding that other people have different thoughts and experiences to yours). I read lots of different books about how the brain vector maps faces and where memory is stored in the body. It occurred to me that an interesting project would be to map my own mind as a web page using Versalius illustration of the nervous system as the navigation (please do not use this idea- I WILL get around to doing it)
For the most part, I think this project would be an exercise in narcissism- memories, thoughts, ideas - I mean its all about me. The genuinely investigative and interesting part of the project will be trying to map the part of my brain that dwells to a large extent beyond my waking ken. It's the artist in the dark I am interested in -the bell diver who can sink to the black recesses of my brain and drag barnacled objects to the surface, the investigative officer who can see patterns in the scattered evidence, the anatomist who slices into the skin to see what lies beneath.
Who that woman is and where her country lies I haven't the faintest clue.