Take us by the hand, arts leaders, and tread softly

Childers St street sign

Who knew Mondrian designed the street signs in City West?

I half ran, half stumbled across Civic last Monday morning on my way to the Childers Group Arts Leadership Forum 2014  at the Canberra Theatre Centre and Canberra Museum and Gallery. I said hi to the Antler Girl as I scooted up Ainslie Avenue, and was splashed by icy spray from The Canberra Times Fountain.

Highly stylised and slightly disturbing sculpture of cute girl in floral tut with antlers on her head, called The Other side of Midnight, made by Anne Ross, on Civic Walk

That Crazy Antler girls says hi (detail of the sculpture ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ by Anne Ross), on City Walk

I thought I might be a few minutes  late, but the organisers had left plenty of time for registration and for participants to talk as they gathered. Phew! I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Design (FAD) at University of Canberra to attend as one of their students, and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Canberra Times Fountain

The Canberra Times fountain – so glad it’s back on, I missed it

I am not an arts leader; let’s get that clear! But I have roamed around the arts in Canberra since 1987, participating in many ways, and loving every second of it, from being amazed by the (literal) fireworks of Splinters Theatre in Yarralumla Brickworks, to tearing down that fourth wall with Benita Tunks in our installation ‘Writing on the Wall’ in the multi-art-multi- media event, ‘Synchromesh’, at Jigsaw Theatre, to joining Dead Poets readings at Poetry at the Gods in the dead of winter.  I have found Canberra’s  arts community so welcoming and inclusive, especially when I first moved here.

Canberra is an interesting environment in terms of arts practice and enjoyment. It is a relatively small place and also relatively well resourced, and the home of major national collecting institutions and galleries, and always just a little under siege psychologically, a little bit edgy. The citizens of Canberra incur the dislike of the rest of the country, as where we live and work and make art is also where our country’s politicians wrangle each other in Parliament in the big house on (and under) the hill. We have a bad reputation because of this, even though most of us have little to do with the machinations of Parliament.

Like the spurned child in the playground, we make our own fun. And what great fun it is.

Canberra’s Centenary in 2013 was a big focus for arts activities, and our Skywhale now swims through the Australian skies singing of the wonder of her hometown and of the places she visits.

I think there is a sense of regrouping in the arts, a feeling of where to now? And in this climate of cut backs, and major changes in direction in so many areas, what sort of leadership do we need in the arts?  Leadership is a quality and practice whose elements are often interrogated, as leadership is key to the success, or at least the viability, of many organisations and businesses and communities.

So The Childers Group gathered together arts leaders to mull over the topic of leadership in the arts. They are an independent art forum, formed in November 2011, and advocates for the arts in this region.

I have decided instead of trying to condense my whole experience of the forum into one post, to reflect on it over a few. So expect more. It was such a rich afternoon  I will be buzzing with what it offered for quite awhile and I want to share some of what I observed. (In fact, I suspect FAD requires me to!)

As a writer I have a special interest in language and story, and my account of the forum is likely to  be influenced by this perspective. Though I saw friends and colleagues involved in writing, like Kelli-anne Bertram and David Vernon from the ACT Writers Centre, and       Jen Webb and Katie Hayne from The Centre for Cultural and Creative Research, (and at last met Rosanna Stevens from Scissors Paper Pen), and of course Nigel Featherstone who represents literature (among other things) so well in the Group itself, I was reminded writing is just one field in a wide and various art scene. But I did notice many references to the importance of language and story during the discussions, central concerns of the writer. (It is good to feel one’s skills may be useful.)

Canberra Theatre Centre

Canberra Theatre Center (with blossoms)

The first plenary session was held in the Canberra Theatre foyer. The speakers were    David Williams (Emeritus Professor), Harriet Elvin (CEO of the Cultural Facilities Authority) and David Fishel (Board Connect and Positive Solutions).

I was especially struck by Elvin’s reference to the Oxford English dictionary definition of a leader:

One who conducts, precedes as a guide, leads a person by the hand …

One who guides others in action or opinion; one who takes the lead in any business, enterprise, or movement …

The clarity but also the poignancy of leading a person by the hand, its gentle intimacy, but also its respectful quality, resonated with me, and I recognised something in it about my experiences of working with good leaders. I resisted the description ‘effective’ leader here, because I think the adjective ‘good’, also implies a moral and partly selfless dimension that for me is an aspect of the sort of leadership I admire. There is also a sense of travelling together.

To indicate the significance of the arts for our communities Elvin also quoted                 John F. Kennedy’s reflection inscribed on the Cultural Centre named after him. “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” This rhetoric (in its true sense) places art as part of our core, and is a reminder of our possibilities, of our best. (And, oh my gosh, look at that sentence structure! Exquisite.)

But let’s move from this height, to something very practical. I was impressed that as a leader, Elvin measures her own success by the success of her staff. It says it all, really. Oh, that all leaders should think this way.

She also examined what the arts sector had to offer business, rather than what business offered art. Generally the art sector excels at teamwork. It is an intrinsic part of the arts, getting a live performance together, a publication, a film, a concert, or an exhibition, requires extraordinary levels of cooperation and commitment. The arts also embrace ‘creative lateral solutions to problems’, and ‘creative partnerships,’ as it is always looking for ways to make the most of limited resources and to push the limits of what they can achieve and also sustain.

We are always, always tempted to focus mainly on funding and finances, and I was refreshed to find the conversations that afternoon circled around that eternal dilemma, but also widened to refocus on other goals, on innovative art practice, communication and enjoyment.

Elvin’s quote from a Yeats’ poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, was also apt, suggesting how to respond to the love and dedication and sometimes frustrations of arts workers for their work, and how leaders needed to be mindful of their staff’s aspirations and vision as well. I think leaders in general need to consider this (I glance to the hill).

‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’

My walk back through Civic that night was with such a light step.

Letters to the past – an invitation to write

row-of-boxes-at-Watson

Today is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Last night I walked around    Lake Burley Griffin, and the energy was the opposite to what I had imagined, leading up to this shortest day of the year. Instead of feeling hunkered down and small, I felt enlivened, expansive and playful. From under Kings Ave Bridge I watched the lights on the water as cyclists hurtled past, and fellow solstice seekers strolled by in the shadows, the week’s work behind them, on their way to the weekend and all its promise, so near to the turning point of the year, feeling the tilt of the earth. I do feel introspective though, as well as energetic, and it is a great feeling.

I would like to share some letters l wrote a little while ago. The shortest day of the year seems to be saying something about time to me, and it has reminded me of these letters, these fragments. A student asked me to write about teaching, for an anthology they were editing. I preferred to turn it around and write about the experience of being taught, instead, and acknowledge those continuing connections with teachers through memories and emotions. Students, teachers, we are all the same really, learning together, in my view. My student didn’t end up using the the letters for their project, but I was glad I wrote them. At the time I called the little series Primary and Secondary.  The letters are not the sort to be sent, most of the people I was writing to are dead. I felt compelled to write to them anyway.  (In The New Diary, Tristine Rainer writes of the ‘unsent letter,’ as a useful technique in journal or diary writing. I love this thoughtful book, I recommend to anyone keeping a journal, or wanting to practice writing.) It just occurred to me  that in a way I am sending the letters, by including them in this post, by ‘posting’ them. Why not? The first four are to primary school teachers, and the last is to a high school teacher.

Dear Mrs Sinclair,

Thank you again for writing to me. I know I sent you a card at the time, but I feel I have to write again.

When I read your letter, I imagined you flipping through ‘She’s a train and she’s dangerous‘ in the book store (probably in the feminist or women’s writing section) and recognising my name and reading ‘In the House Alone’. (In my mind I still look up at you as if I was a child. I stand by you, waiting.) Your letter made me remember school and teachers and I often recall that care you took to contact me. You know I like to write in fragments. And you have a literary bent, so you wouldn’t mind the epistolary form of this little letter/narrative. The fact that you remembered me when you saw my name or read my story really touched me and I often think of that.

I remember you taking us to Liggins – and the primary school library (which was in a room next to the hall), and how special that was, walking through the rows of books, the bookcases at child height, and the wonder of it, the library card, the blue stamp, the book to take home in my library bag. I remember lining up at your desk to receive my next reading card, wondering what colour it would be.

 I have been teaching for awhile now, and though I mainly teach adults, it is my school teachers I often recall when reflecting on teaching. I remember the weave of the cloth on the sleeve of your jacket as you paused beside my desk, watching me write and copy. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, For thou art with me …’ I remember your greying hair, the smell of your face powder, your poise …

 

Dear Mrs MacDonald,

 Thanks for reading to us in the afternoon. The sorrow and love of The Incredible Journey still rises within me, forty years later, and the memory of the hot open windowed afternoons of our story time, and your voice in the stillness after the busy morning. I remember your stories that weren’t from books as well, about the Vikings and their Long Boats and how Germany couldn’t invade England but they did in those boats, and about Nature and God’s perfection, and Man’s imperfection.

 Mrs Mac, I remember the end of year afternoon tea at your house, your shadowy cottage, the cakes on the table, the wild heavy blooms at your front door as we stood on tip toes to ring the front door bell …

 Dear Mrs Newell,

 I remember your authority, your thin wiry way, your tight curls gliding above the song of the times tables. Do you remember the arm that rose unexpectedly from the centre row – and the question – ‘What happens to a child when they die?’ You gave such a certain answer – ‘They go straight to heaven,’ you said. Your voice was so clear and certain. What peace you gave me! I wonder, were you asked that question very often?

 And Mrs Newell, you had a pool! And a pool party! We floated there at the end of the year. After our parents left, your pale daughter sat in the shade sipping coke, in her bikini and dark glasses, her white hair shining, as we lolled and splashed … 

Dear Miss Heath,

I’ve written about you before, and now I want to write to you. I think of you, Miss Heath. I think of your back and up stretched arm as you drew on the blackboard at the beginning of each season. You were in the classroom early, framing the lessons on that giant blackboard, with summer’s breaking waves and spray, with autumn ‘s burnt leaves, winter’s ice cave of blue and white and spring’s chalky tulips, spring’s bursting leaves. And in the frame of your art must have been our introduction to words and numbers and grown up time, (the day, the date, the month, the year).

 I realise now you were an artist. At the reunion Miss Stuart told me. ‘Oh, she died’. Your horn rimmed glasses and French knot or your soft hair falling on your shoulders when it was out, were beyond the ken of the Canteen Mothers and their perms – and you rated as a plain (single) woman, (very kind) – a kindergarten teacher. The pleat of your skirt brushes my shoulder as I sit cross-legged and you lean down to turn the page with me.

 I lined up with my big sister at the New Theatre to buy the tickets to a play she wanted to see, and there you were selling them at the box office. My mother was glad you had something to do on the weekend. I remember your smile …

 Dear Mrs Plimer,

I think you may still be alive and not that far away— that is a good feeling. It is nearly ten years since I spoke to you. I rang you during the bush fires to see if you needed help. I knew the fire was heading towards you. Dear woman, you were packing the car with your research, and were about to leave. You were prepared and strong. When help is needed we try to give it. For weeks you arrived at my house in the morning and helped me into the front seat, put my crutches into the back of your car, and then drove me to school. They were fun weeks of being late to class, careening down halls on my crutches, of healing from my accident, of people making a fuss of me. I think now, looking back, you were helping my mother. She was (and is) strong, but others must have seen her need, that she was alone. I remember small gestures, friends stepping forward to help, your care.

with love

Sarah

For this Winter Solstice ‘Invitation to Write,” write a letter to a teacher. (Hopefully a fond one!) Or to someone from the past that you think of. I’d love to read them. Post them to the comments section, and if you like we can publish them together in a later post. Or write it just for yourself, and them – see what happens.

red-letter-box

 

 

 

 

An Invitation to Write – Swimming

Very pale green ripply water and if you look carefully you can see grey fish.

In the shallows. Can you see the fish? Northbridge Baths.

I’ve been finding writing a bit difficult lately, how to start, how to continue, well pretty much everything about it. Same old story, eh? But if I cast back over the last three months I notice I have started a number of poems and short stories and some words are there and some of them are okay. That is not as bad as I thought it was. Phew.

I once went to a workshop with the poet Lucy Dougan, and she recounted the memories of her sculptor father, who regularly made maquettes out of sand on the beach, and then destroyed them. The lesson was that he viewed it all as practice and to not feel worried about not continuing and not completing everything, that it is acceptable to start many things and explore them and to not always feel committed to completion. That is how I understood it. I have been to many writing workshops and seminars over the years, and somehow that piece of advice seemed significant to me. So remembering this I will look back over my fragments and consider them, and sweep them away and start again if needs be, like practice sculptures in the sand.

I went swimming yesterday, just in Civic Pool.  (I have just discovered it is actually called Canberra Olympic Pool, which is a bit grander.) If locals asked you where you had gone swimming, I think many people would just say, Civic Pool, so I can be excused. Civic is the term used for the central area of Canberra. I was surprised the outside pool was still open, as it is now Autumn.  I’ve been wanting to exercise more and swimming is my favourite way; I hate getting hot and sweaty (despite my Running on Lava post),  though I did love the humidity in the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a different sort of hot and sweaty than inland Australia, which is peculiarly itchy and irritating (for me at least). Living inland precludes swimming in the sea very often, which is where I prefer to paddle, so I have had to get used to the local public swimming pools, over the years.

Darker, almost ultramarine blue water, with the sun making lighter shades

Deeper water, Northbridge Baths

My childhood local swimming hole, Northbridge Baths, was and still is a magical place. I visited The Baths recently after decades and couldn’t believe they had not changed (except there were a few more yachts around). Northbridge Baths are modest, a little difficult to walk to, down a very steep hill, and are a bit hidden by gardens and houses. They are a tidal pool, and the larger body of water they are part of is known as Middle Harbour. It is the colour of the water that stays with me, or should I say, colours of the water. Within just a few meters, the shades move from palest aqua to deepest ultramarine.

We also swam at North Sydney Olympic Pool for school swimming lessons. This pool is framed by Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is next to Luna Park, and its famous open-mouthed entrance peers over the walls into the pool (or at least it does in my memory, the logistics of that don’t quite add up, to be truthful about it, but it is just next door to the pool). It is a magical place too. The Cha-Cha ride veered close to the pool wall, and screams from riders sometimes rose with the loops and turns of the Cha-Cha as we shivered in the water, blowed bubbles, and practiced mouth-to-mouth on the rough concrete in that earnest mime of resuscitation.  I went on the Cha-Cha a few times, and could see into the pool as we swung towards it through the air. Or is this just how my memory has pieced these places and experiences together? A fire in the Ghost Train ride closed Luna Park for several years and I remember Luna Park strange and derelict as well, as it was opened and closed a number of times after that. I remember walking around its desolate perimeter. These memories add to the magic.

Civic Pool doesn’t quite have the ambience of The Baths and North Sydney Pool. But I think any swimming experience evokes something in me about childhood and a sense of rare freedom that swimming gave me as a child. The rhythmic movement through water, the stretching, the immersion, being so other to the walking about the world self, and being in a group of people, often strangers, who have willingly stripped off and are doing a similar thing, continues to fascinate me.

Recently I found out an old friend I reconnected with at a reunion, who used to swim at Northbridge Baths as well, writes a beautiful blog called Swimming Pool stories. One of my favourites. She is even more fascinated than me!

I love to ‘people watch’ at the pool. Yesterday I watched a man holding his baby, walking on the grass, so happy together, following a duck.  A little girl sunbathed on the bare concrete beside the pool, lying like a fallen statue. I watched young boys negotiate which diving board to spring from, a careful dance played out over twenty minutes, testing each one and each other, and young bikinied girls standing on the edge of the pool tentatively testing the cold, their little brothers ranging around them.  So much of it is about quietly negotiating space and territory.

Freed from the lanes of the lap pool, I didn’t swim straight up and down as usual, but did a few diagonals and curves, and backtracked. My friend enjoyed trying to touch the bottom. It was a deep pool. It is designed for diving. I like to swim slowly, but enjoy when the spirit of play is still within my friends and they are curious, and we splash a little and laugh.

So for this Equinox’s Invitation to Write, let’s write about Swimming. Any aspect of it. Even if you don’t swim, if you hate it, or would like to do it but don’t know how. Be lateral how you interpret it. Wading around will do! Dipping your feet in! Write freely and just enjoy it. I will look forward to how you want to contribute. Just post your writing in the comments, and we may have a conversation. Let’s see what happens. Here is my spontaneous offering, living in my memory of swimming at The Baths as a child.

Dipping below and diving, I hold myself under for one bursting breath, open my eyes to this darker refracted place, the sun and this breathe bubbling on the surface, which I rise, rise to break through. 

Oh, and that is another little bit of writing. I wonder if it is the beginning of a maquette, or if it will form something else one day?

The water is greener here with a strip of darker green and a pattern on the edges of the strip

A shadow, Northbridge Baths

Running on lava

A photo of me running towards the camera on pitch black rocks, with the sun setting in the background

Running on lava at sunset

Heat. Long gulping icy drinks. Tickly sweat trickles. This is my second ‘invitation to write’ and after a long summer day my inspiration is fairly obvious. In fact it is the longest summer day, the Solstice.

SUMMER. Whatever this season means to you, be it cicada song, melting icecream, burning dusty feet, or running on lava, write in response to SUMMER.

Hold this word in your mind for a moment and then play with it in words. Extemporise. Improvise. Don’t stop writing. If nothing comes just write about that eg I don’t know what to write swimming, pools, sweaty, dry etc until more words come. Write for five minutes.

Read it over. You might not like all of what what you’ve written, but there will be something, some small thing of interest, something a little special you could develop and work with.

Just write without thinking too much and let one thing lead to another. You can use a keyboard and bash away or be ‘old school’ and use a pen or pencil and paper (I like pencil myself). Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation or even making that much sense. If you’ve written it by hand then type it up. Don’t be tempted to fix it up too much. Then post it in the comments.

I’ll update this post in a couple of days with my response to SUMMER. But don’t be influenced by what I write. Just put down what comes into your mind. I’ll approve the responses which you’ve posted in the comments and they will go public in about three weeks, either in the comments or as as separate post. And I’ll check in with you about it so don’t worry. And we can discuss our raw little pieces of writing and their potential. I’ll leave the post up so anyone can join in at anytime. I’ll sometimes comment and even make suggestions about where the pieces and fragments might go, and you can too. I’m hoping it will continue to be lots of fun.

An island that is a goddess

Grey lava like waves has several sky holes, that is holes where you can see the molten rock, fiery orange, just below, also mist and steam is rising up, and there are some silvery patterns on the great lava surface

Skyholes in the lava flow of Pu’u Loa

Pele taptaps ash
on lava waves, stubs skyholes,
exhales clouds and earth

When I ordered seaweed at the Odiruko, in Waikiki, Mike paused. He checked my order. Then he asked where we were planning to travel in Hawaii. We told him we were going to The Big Island. He paused again and said, ‘You are going to an island that is a goddess.’ He came from The Big Island.

Then he told us about Pele. He said that if we saw a Hawaiian woman hitchhiking at night, to not stop, as she might be Pele, the goddess of the island, who often appears to travellers, especially just before the volcanoes erupt. We wanted to see Pele, and though we didn’t, I think we felt her. In Hilo every few minutes the sky weeps. There is not much difference between air and water, it is so humid.

We asked where it was good to swim in Hilo, and Chris said, ‘Oh just out there, in the Cold Pond’, pointing out the window. The Cold Pond is a volcanic crater so deep it is biting cold, and we swam from the warm sea, into it.

Pele smokes. I imagine her taking a drag, watching, a frangipani in her cloudy hair. She’s been known to ash her cigarette in a crater, just before the next eruption begins.

7.21 A Standard Day

An image of a wide open eye with a cross hair on it indicating the iris is being scanned, it is a bit sic-fi and disturbing, quite blood shot

Julian’s iris scan

I slipped into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum as I walked past the red bookshelf. I started searching for Time Pieces, a short story collection that Craig Cormick and I edited, and that was published by Ginninderra Press in 1999. It was so deep in the infundibulum I could not reach it. But Craig could from across town, and sent my little story ‘7.21 A Standard Day’, from Time Pieces, through the ether. I wanted to check the version I had on Word against the published version.

I’ve been thinking about the Writing from an Equinox I did that arose from my Invitation to Write about Equal and Angles. I have settled on trying to write about an Angleorium with an atrium and its designer. I’m thinking the Angleorium might be speaking to the designer as it is being designed and built. Dear Heavens, it sounds like it might be set in science fiction land, it really does.

‘7.21 A Standard Day’ is the only overtly science fiction story I have written so far. I read classic science fiction in my youth, and especially love the work of Olaf Stapledon and H.G. Wells, and I guess you have worked out I am fond of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing as well. I also studied the Utopian and Dystopian Novel in the early 1980s with Margaret Harris at Sydney University along with a number of alarming, vocal and hairy Marxists and semioticians who turned into professors and art critics, I believe, and there were a heap of other students and writers of many varieties in that wonderful class, including a goddess of children’s literature. I sat there so quietly in so much awe.

I came across Michael Wilding’s Political Fictions there, and took away a  portion of knowledge that has affected my life. He pointed out that realism was as much a construct as any other genre, it was just that it was more obvious what was being left in and left out of science fiction, as the world creation, how the world related or did not relate to our lived world, was at the forefront of the writing and reading experience, whereas in realism a bit of a nifty was going on. The reader relates realism to the lived world and forgets about what is being left in and left out. Though my natural impulse is experimental, and I feel most comfortable in fragmented and odd shaped writing, I have taken realism as my experiment and challenge from this observation of Wilding’s. So it is strange to be considering writing a science fiction story.

It was suggested to me by Affrica Taylor (in response to a presentation I was giving about attempting to trouble the opposition of Nature and Culture in realist fiction where I represent pregnant female characters) that Nature was just too seductive and would always win. She suggested that science fiction might be the answer, to help me mess up this opposition. I resist this. (She is probably right, but a failed experiment also has value.) Realism is my experiment for this Nature Culture business, my little petri dish. But I’ve also discovered an Angleorium and I think I have to find out what that might be.

Looking back over past work can really help a writer. ‘I did this before, I can do it again.’ ‘7.21 A Standard Day’ is one of my few comic pieces, it was really enjoyable to write, and I found my favourite male character in my work so far, Julian Minus Moon. It fulfilled a promise to myself as I worked in a basement at the National Film and Sound Archive that one day I would write about the absurdity of the Australian federal public servants’ standard day (at that time) which was 7 hours and 21 minutes. As I was the one checking the work time sheets the absurdity was compounded.

I corresponded with Claus Tondering all those years ago, and I think it was the first time I dared to contact a stranger very far away with an odd question online. As a Time buff, he was happy to discuss the fictional plausibility of the Significant Universal Adjustment, which is the crux of the drama of ‘7.21′, and he asked – ‘Why do public servants in Australia work 7 hours and 21 minutes in a day?’ Good question. I’m chuffed that I picked iris rather than retinal scanning to be the tech of the future, but there are still keyboards in my imagined world. It was written before 9/11 and before the Sydney Olympics. Enjoy!

7.21 A Standard Day

Julian M. Moon Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance: 0

Sick day. Perfection. The only way I can achieve a standard day is to take a sickie. Fine weather for the weekend. Clean house. Cooked dinner.

Julian M. Moon Start: 9.06. Finish: 12.32. Start: 1.04. Finish: 4.13. Hours worked: 6.35. Progressive Balance: -46.

Dirty socks and takeaway. La Nina weeps through the week.

Julian M. Moon Start: 9.52. Finish: 12.08. Start: 2.04. Finish: 4.13. Hours worked: 5.29. Progressive Balance: -2.38

Julian M. Moon Start: 10.43…

My second name is Minus. I’m thinking of making it my first name. Julian Minus Moon to Minus Julian Moon. Has a certain beat to it. I needn’t even write it out

A horizontal line

just an elegant line across the page. The magical negative crawling towards zero, or shooting in the other direction, growing fat with increasing numbers, less and less, while growing bigger and bigger. Two negatives make a positive. What alchemy! If I could find my other Minus, I would fill her zero and enter the positive equation. Conquer my Time Record. We could lie in bed on flextime and the shadows of the day would pass over our flesh. Busy old fool, unruly sunne, why dost thou thus, through windows and through curtains, call on us?

The unrecorded break. I flush. Air freshener ejaculates lavender rain. Please be considerate and change the toilet roll if you happen to use the last sheet. I leave one sheet. Hal wuz here 2001. I wuz too. After scrubbing my nails, I whip the battery out of the smoke detector and light up a fag.

The new woman has taken my last work station. God she was quick. Go for a crap and the new girl takes your seat. The only station left is right in the middle. She’s facing the window, doing tai chi. She won’t last.

I rest my hands (they must be absolutely covered in faeces bacteria) on the keyboard and let the bacteria migrate between the keys. The disinfectant wipe doesn’t get in there. Come to think of it, everyone’s faeces bacteria must be everywhere. I gaze at the infected open plan. The system recognises my touch. It’s slow today. I log on. Management never considered bacteria in the office design. I email the Occupational Health and Safety rep about it again.

I switch to my draft brief to the Minister; now where was I up to? How do I convince him?

Implications of the Significant Universal Adjustment (SUA)

Background

Time zones were a response to transport innovations of the 19th and 20th centuries. They introduced a standard system of time over the whole globe. But the world has changed.

The EEC’s (European Economic Community’s) proposal that all nations follow their lead in abolishing time zones has great merit. With ever increasing international travel, and some international commuting becoming common for business at every level and sector, complex time adjustment is a growing cost to the economy.

On a more philosophical level, the coordination of time measurement has been one of the final stages of humanity freeing themselves from nature. It is our greatest construct, along with poetry and music. It is an achievement akin to space travel and western medicine.

Her voice pauses at my desk. It is the old woman from Personnel. Her chin rests on my divider. Her eyes flutter over my screen. She has a birthday card for me to sign. I sign it ‘Minus.’ Her step falters as she reads my new signature. No-one celebrates my birthday. 29th February. A catch-up day. My whole life a catch-up life. I’m only eight years old. With the body of a thirty two year old. Ha! This is a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Tarantara!

I have few phone calls to make. I’m worried about the time. I’d better check up.

Natural time (the traditional time of night and day, sleep and wake) and business time coexist across the world, All nations could adopt Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the 24 hour clock. After one generation people would find no problem with the working day starting at 0900, or 1100, or 2000, or 2100, depending where you were in the world. Midday would no longer necessarily be linked to 1200, and would be 2300 midday on the east coast of Australia. Meetings that require physical presence, and corporeal conferences, could be scheduled on business time, late in some people’s day, early in others.

The risk is that, at the time of adjustment, every nation would have to synchronise. The computer systems that make our world coherent would be vulnerable during that moment to industrial espionage, or terrorists like the New Luddites.

The new woman is trying to make an impression. She is cleaning everyone’s monitor with patchouli-scented antistatic spray. She can’t stop moving, gliding around the office. She wipes my screen, the sweet sweat of her underarm next to my face. She could almost be naked. She wears no watch.

I make a few more phone calls. I’m still worried about the time. Something is wrong.

The SUA should logically have been made at the turn of the century, but because of fears about the Millennium Bug, the United Nations decreed the adjustment should take place early in the 21st century.

It transpires that the Millennium Bug (aka Y2K) had only a minimal impact. An air crash in Nicaragua, social security payment deviations in the United Kingdom, a minor fall in the value of Microsoft shares, and rash of Millenium Bug Anxiety (MBA) claims, are the only verified occurrences related to the Millennium Bug. Failures in timing equipment at the Sydney Olympics cannot be attributed to the Millennium Bug, though they have been in the popular imagination. Neither can the failure be attributed to the New Luddites, who claimed responsibility for them. ASIO (The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) denies their grandiose claims, and the ability of the amateur organisations to significantly infiltrate government bodies, The Richardson Enquiry (2002) found the timing equipment failure was due to a sequence of human errors.

The little guy carrying a flag runs onto the screen again. The message under his feet screams. STOP PHONING THE TIME! THE TIME ON YOUR COMPUTER IS CORRECT. YOUR QUOTA OF 1900 CALLS HAS EXPIRED. ENTER YOUR PASSWORD TO ACKNOWLEDGE MESSAGE. I pick up the receiver again. ‘After the first beep it will be…’

It’s two seconds out. The government departments are not synchronised. It has always been my suspicion. I glance at the shadows on the buildings.

Massive resources by governments and private enterprise worldwide were put into deflecting the Millennium Bug, into checking systems and into public education. The risks associated with the SUA now face scepticism due to the relatively easy transition into the new century and the non-event of the Millennium Bug.

And someone in the office has a perfect Time Record. It keeps flashing across the wall. A perfect standard day they actually work. 7.21. 7.21. 7.21. Day after symmetrical day, showing up my jagged daily equations and those of the rest of the office.
I can’t help myself. A stolen surf, leaping down the lines, jumping from my bookmarks into the world. I visit the Royal Observatory. Greenwich. My virtual home. Time here becomes space.

The little guy with the flag comes running out. He’s screaming again. YOUR ACCESS TO THE INTERNET IS BEING TERMINATED. SEE DEPARTMENTAL POLICY ‘ETHICAL USES OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY,2.2.’ ENTER PASSWORD TO ACKNOWLEDGE MESSAGE.

I need to finish the SUA recommendations. I need the CEO to support staffing for the SUA project. But I can’t work under these conditions

Julian M. Moon Start 8.17

Today is one of my favourite days of the year. I wait. Everyone will be at least an hour late. The cretins. Daylight Saving gets them every time. The clocks turn back, and they always forget. Or they turn their clock in the wrong direction. Not me. I’m early.

The lift opens. It’s the new woman. She stares at me before she clocks in. Never in my nine years in the public service has anyone arrived on time the day after daylight saving. She shifts her gaze to the Autobundy and it reads her iris. Her perfect timing flashes across the Time Record above her head. She is the one.

Minette. M. Young Start 8.30

‘What‘s your problem?’ She whispers as she sets up next to me, her hands resting on the keyboard, waiting for recognition.
All the stations are free except mine. Sweat on her upper lip. She has been hurrying.

‘How do you do it? You’ve no watch, no phone. No timepiece of any sort. You can’t see the screen. ’

‘You mean the time thing?’

She contemplates the Time Record, hers and mine together. Perfection and imperfection.

‘I’d better stop doing that. It’s a bit conspicuous. You see my body is like a clock. I just know what time it is. To the second. I’m not so accurate below that…’ she leans towards me, ‘unless I’m very, very drunk.’

She touches my arm.

‘And I don’t wear watches or any sort of timepiece, my electromagnetic field buggers them up. I don’t need them anyway. Doesn’t mean I’m always on time though, just when I think about it. I’ve been thinking about Daylight Saving.’

Her breasts rise steadily up and down. She is regaining her breath.

‘It’s genetic, my whole family is like that. But we don’t let the genome project people anywhere near us, so keep it quiet. We don’t believe in that sort of thing.’

The pattern of her iris has imprinted itself on my soul.

‘What are you working on, Julian?’

I want to bathe in her electromagnetic field. I send her the SUA draft.

Julian M. Moon Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance

Recreation leave.

Minette M. Young Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance

Recreation leave.

My stop watch is on the bed head. I time her orgasms. It’s harder to time the multiple ones. They roll into and over each other, and just as I think she’s finished, she locks her legs around me and she starts again. Is she faking? I set the watch back to zero for another try. She reaches back and touches its face. Its hands speed up, and then stop. She pushes against me. Another one is coming.

She grabs my hair, pulling her ear to my mouth. She whispers, ‘Time that is not moved by little fidget wheels is not my Time.’ The words travel into me. I feel a jolt, a release akin to the crunch of the chiropractor’s correction.

At last we lie still, the shadows of the day passing over our flesh. At last I dare to ask, ‘What is your second name?’ She holds her hands over her mouth and speaks through them. ‘It’s silly. Minette Moment.’

She takes her hands away, laughing, gauging my reaction. ‘My family all have names like that. Because of the time thing. Moment and Meridian. My aunt’s second name is Second. That’s the worst. It’s sort of a family joke.’

I kiss her navel, her toes. I bite under her arm.

‘You think my time thing is something special, don’t you? But really it’s meaningless.’

I trace her spine. Stroke her hair.

‘I want to work on something important again. I loved the Olympic Committee. But now the Games are over I have to get stuck into something else. I’ve applied to work on the SUA too.’ I hold her nipple beneath my tongue and listen to the murmur of her heart.

A line and a circle meaning to indicate man and woman (they are side by side)

A portal opened

A shadowy woman waits, there is the outside world and light behind her, she is at one end of the tunnel/portal, she is surrounded by shadowy nets suspended from the ceiling

The soul carer

I found soul stones in my raincoat pocket. I rolled their smoothness in my palm, surprised by recognition, as I stood in the photocopier room at work. They reminded me that a portal opened in the underpass outside Albert Hall. It was raining so I walked into the portal and I met a soul carer there. She called me Time Mistress and gave me the soul stones. I told her I would always be there, when I left. I walked through the portal many times, it was wide and open to our world on 10 November, 2013, underneath Canberra.

A tall poet in the dark tunnel with shadowy figures and light behind him, a grainy strange atmospheric image

Of course I knew the poet! Aaron! How’d you find your way in, brother? Oh, the words!

I recognised a poet. We have written together in other times and places. We shook hands and I listened to his words.

In very low light tinged with red, a woman who is a seer sits on the ground with her enchanted saucepan observing people, who crouch before her to hear her wisdoms

The seer with her enchanted saucepan.

A seer told me my feet are strong. I thought while I stood photocopying how much they ache and burn, but yes, I thought, they are strong. They have to be.

A suited man with a grotesque mask crouches under a stretched net, and talks to a young girl wearing a dark cloak, he is very attentive, and man with a peaked cap is in the background and is about to walk by

The troll takes some advice on where to live next

A jovial being who sups on public figures, sought advice from us portal visitors, us passersby. Where should he live? Who’s tasty out there?

Some like me knew the portal would open. We came with that knowledge. Others were seeking shelter in their usual underpass, rolling their bikes through webs and flickerlights, soothsayers and demons, tucking away umbrellas to sidle past the tailed and taboo creatures so comfortable here and so comforting. Or they paused to listen to the tones of xylophones, crooners, and pianos from Wonderland. Underpass. Portal. Bus stops. Underworlds. Overworlds. Changing Places. I keep the stones in my raincoat pocket to remind me.

A teddy bear crawling along a metal grid with red back lights, a bit creepy or funny, I'm not sure which

Don’t worry, Teddy is only playing.

Looking out of the tunnel we see a little girl dressed as a princess from behind, climbing the stairs in the rain

A princess leaves the portal