Yesterday a friend of ours, Chris Marshall, turned up at the house to talk about the Peel Common and noticed the giant cracks in the wall. He is a soil and geology man, so the discussion about Bathurst’s clay soils, and how they make houses crack as they expand and contract, went deeper than the usual discussions on this topic. The usual discussions go like this, “Oh hell, look at that giant crack in the wall.” And the reply: “Oh yes, Bathurst is built on clay soils that expand and contract in times of rain and drought.” But with Chris Marshall, it goes like this: “Our Pleistocene-aged sands and gravels are topped by Holocene-aged swampy meadows with dark coloured clay loam soils.” Actually I’m paraphrasing here from a paper he has just written as part of the Cox’s Road Dreaming Project.
I was getting ready to scoot out of the house to perform Invisible Body at the Bathurst entertainment centre. But I really wanted to stick around for geological time. I wanted to be in a discussion that had absolutely nothing to do with me. This weekend, I’m a little over talking about me. I’m sure I’ll get interested again shortly, but for now, I’d rather be thinking about the Holocene period and swampy meadows and dark coloured clay loam soils. But there’s one more thing I have to do as part of my contribution to the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writers’ Festival: be on a panel titled “The Joy of Blogging”. It’s at 4pm in the Wattle Foyer in the BMEC today, if anyone in the neighbourhood is reading this and wants to come on down (the panel will include fellow local bloggers Marg Hogan and Cherie Quade. I know I’ll rise to the occasion and even enjoy it (as I finally began to enjoy the performance of Invisible Body) but right now, at this minute, I’m longing to get on to the not-me parts of the universe.
Actually, just on the cracks in the wall: When my two little nephews and their friend were visiting, I told them the crack in the hall was a crack in the space-time continuum. They looked slightly alarmed so I said, “Only joking!” But I shouldn’t have been such a wimp. I should have let myself do their heads in. Kids get it too easy these days.
PS: The performance went really well – people loved it. Kudos to director Fiona Green who managed to wrangle two slightly difficult, nervous, non-actors into a piece that really worked on stage.
It’s ten to eleven pm on a Thursday night. Am I really going to start my post at this late hour? I suppose the answer is yes. I’m still limping around, Googling “meniscus”, rubbing my right knee. My moment with the 422 bus continues to haunt me. It’s funny – having survived much worse bodily assaults over the past year or so, it’s this minor injury that’s getting me down. I don’t like to limp. I like to dart. I like to dart across the room when a student calls me over to their computer so we can peer at the thing that won’t work together. I like to dart from one end of the house to go and get the thing I forgot to bring from the other room, and dart again because I got distracted and still didn’t bring it. I like to jump into the car with nine seconds to spare, get there, slam the car door and hurtle into whatever it is with no seconds to spare, breathing hard from the exertion. All of that has been impossible over the past ten days or so. I have to move slowly and limp. This body. This &^%$# body. This temple, this vale of tears, this jewel, this England. Nar, not England. Just knee. Stiff. Sore. Making me limp. Making me feel more like the other slow, stiff, limping people of the world. They come out after morning rush hour to do a bit of slow shopping, a bit of slow post office and bank.
I walk slowly across campus and meet two juvenile magpies who don’t bother to move because such a slow-moving being is unlikely to be dangerous.
A lot of other people have bad knees. They’re all over the Internet, next to pictures of knees with red halos of pain.
Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be rehearsing for Invisible Body, a short performance piece three of us are doing for the Bathurst outpost of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I’ve been learning my part by sitting on a chair, doing the movements from the waist up. If worst comes to worst, I’ll do it on stage like that, on a stool. But I do want to be up on both legs for this one. And then on the Sunday, I’ll be part of a panel titled The Joy of Blogging. Note that blogging isn’t always a joy. Sometimes it’s oh-hell-it’s-Thursday-and-I-have-to-write-something. But mostly it’s a joy.
Oh yes, and not one but two people in my Thursday morning TAFE class have only one knee. Both have prostheses for their other leg. There’s always someone worse off, as they say. But then, there’s always Arlo Guthrie’s last guy. The one for whom there’s absolutely nobody worse off. Here it is on YouTube. He starts talking about the last guy at about 2.22 minutes in on this clip.
I’ve been channeling my mother. Let me hasten to add that she has not gone over to the other side. She’s alive and well and doing some renovations. I’m channeling an earlier incarnation of my mother, the one in her 20s and 30s, the one that used to lay out yards of fabric and, with a pair of giant, sharp, impressive scissors, would cut and cut and cut.
“I want to go cut cut cut like thaaaat!” I apparently whined at a young age. I wanted to get my hand on the scissors. I watched as well-dressed, sometimes perfumed, ladies came to the house and Mum got down on her supple knees to do their hems. And then there’d be the staccato runs of her green Singer sewing machine.
She made her own clothes and the clothes worn by my sister Deb and I. Even our knickers and bathers. In this pic Mum’s wearing a crisp white dress with blue flowers that she wore for years and we’re wearing the red bikini bathers she made. (Everyone said these were cute, but we yearned for shop-bought ones.)
By the late ’70s she’d switched from ladies’ frocks to curtain contracts to earn a living. Nice straight lines. A lot easier, and more lucrative, than shaping fabric to women’s bodies.
Now I’ve got my own hands on the scissors. I’ve made a calico toile for a set of three turquoise fifties dresses with big gathered skirts. We’ll be coming on stage in our lovely frocks, only to disrobe to our taupe “undies”, in which we will do some physical jerks while someone else reads out our True Confessions. As I whined last week, this is outrageous behavior for me, especially the physical jerks. But I think I may be on top of skipping backwards. As long as I don’t think about it too much.
But making the dresses … that’s beautifully familiar. The movements of scissors, fabric, machine, pulling gathers – they’re all body memories. Apparently when you watch something, the same parts of the brain are triggered as if you do the actions yourself. As I sew, I channel my mother’s movements.
Meanwhile, this year’s Waste 2 Art project is ready to ship. It just needs to go down the road to the Flannery Centre today at 2pm, and then it just does its own thing. I’ve finished fiddling with it. It’s in its cardboard box, waiting to go out of the door. I really enjoyed painting the ring-pulls red and black. The finished piece is a bit of mess, really, but it’s nice to simply participate. The exhibition will be open from May 1-10.
Meanwhile, the world goes on being convulsed by trauma; now Nepal. And before that the Kenyan university students. But Bathurst is absolutely gorgeous at this time of year. The trees are yellow and red and orange; there are leaves everywhere. The air is crisp.
Waste 2 Art Artist’s Statement
Title: Carbon dioxide, 2015.
Artist: Tracy Sorensen
Media: Recycled items: Found vintage ring pulls; recycled lamp frame; red, black & blue paint from 1970s Hobbytex tubes; lid from old storage canister; found toy car. New item: Beading wire.
Measurements: 36 x 36 x 24
Place of execution: Bathurst, NSW, Australia
When you pull back on a ring pull on a can of beer or soft drink, you can hear and see and feel – in the tiny droplets of water – the action of carbon dioxide. It’s the CO2 that makes the fizz.
When I walk my black Labrador, Bertie, around McPhillamy Park on the top of Mount Panorama I keep an eye out for ring pulls. I only collect the old-style ones that were discontinued in the 1980s. I like the way their twisted, folded shapes recall the hands that originally tore them from the cans. Delightful moments of fizziness and pleasure are frozen in time in these found ring pulls.
In this piece I have used ring pulls to represent carbon dioxide. It is often represented in three-dimensionally as two red spheres (oxygen) attached to one black sphere (carbon). I painted the ring pulls with Hobbytex paint recovered out of old tubes. (Hobbytex was a fabric-painting craze in the 1970s.) Anyone who has used Hobbytex would have noticed its powerful petrochemical fumes.
Carbon dioxide provides more than fizz; it’s an essential part of all life on this planet, and it helps to create the greenhouse effect – a global blanket – that keeps the earth warm enough for the human life we’ve grown accustomed to over the entire course of human development.
You can have too much of a good thing. Since the industrial revolution, when we began burning fossil fuels in earnest, the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has grown by about 30%. Now, our global blanket is getting a little too warm. I’ve represented this by using the curve of the lamp frame to suggest the curve of the atmospheric blanket over the surface of the earth.
I found the metal toy car, encrusted with dirt, in the back yard. It has been painted in the black and white Marlboro livery of motor racing legend Peter Brock’s cars. Carbon dioxide molecules trail out the back of it like a bride’s long train, and ascend into the overarching atmosphere.
Lest we forget
Every year at about this time, I think of Simpson and his donkey. I’ve known the story of this courageous pair – how they toiled up and down the cliffs at Gallipoli, taking wounded soldiers to the hospital ships – for as long as I can remember. It’s a fragment of a bigger story that encompasses poppies and mud and the opening scenes of George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, where there were gas masks and crutches in the hall and strangely disfigured men lurking out the back.
The earliest Anzac Day ceremonies were personal; they evoked particular young men that people had known and loved. Now, a century later, those young people are more abstract to us. But because of the stories woven round them, they will not be forgotten.
What about the young people a hundred years from now? They don’t yet have names or faces. But they’ll be just as real as we are now. And it may be that they will look back at us and wonder how we could have forgotten them. How could we have had so much information about climate change and yet done so little?
Perhaps, unlike the Anzacs, they just don’t have a good enough story. Social scientists tell us that information, by itself, doesn’t make much impact on people. Stories, on the other hand, have sticking power. And the stories we don’t tell each other – the silences – are just as important.
Anzac stories can be told simply, powerfully, emotionally. There’s a boy from the bush, running into enemy fire, legs like springs. Climate change offers some scientists writing papers full of maths equations that nobody else can read and a vague sense of guilt about not switching off the power at the wall. For most people, climate change just thuds quietly to the bottom of the brain.
But stories are made as much as they’re born. Historian Charles Bean worked tirelessly to promote the memory of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli story caught on because it combined with the needs of a new nation hungry for stories to tell about itself. A century on, our political leaders are keener than ever to bathe in reflected glory.
It certainly beats talking about parts per million of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere. We can know, and yet we can forget.