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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

21. Moments (2) Crevices in Time: meditation on the archaeology of a [moment]

This piece from my Journal dates back to September, 2008. It is a further exploration of the notion that we live in [moments]. Maybe the metaphor of time that dominates our thinking - of time flowing as a river flows - is an illusion. We impose on our experience this notion of continuity; we putty over the crevices and pretend that time has a smooth surface.
Reading over this piece, what strikes me are the sudden leaps, and the difficulty of the task. "Capturing" and "recording" the richness of any given [moment] is impossible. As David Ireland wrote: the more we look INTO a moment, the more we find it contains.

Whenever I dig down into the past and undertake the archaeological venture of examining past moments, I have my memory, I have my writing, I have other information : the memory of others, artefacts, photographs.

And each time I’m taken by how inadequate is the record. Even when I look into this moment, I realise how inadequately I perceive the fullness of the moment, the narrowness of attention, the delimitations on my attention span: limitations of depth, of width, of fullness, of inclusiveness.

Take this moment:
I am sitting in a lecture, and I am aware of much that is going on, much that is there to be experienced. Pam St Leger is delivering a lecture. Pam is an old friend from my days of teaching at Melbourne University’s Hawthorn Institute. For a short time I’ve regressed 10 or so years … I’m parking the car at the front of Hawthorn Institute … I’m picturing the hundreds of overseas students, mostly Japanese, who filled the Caf, picturing my fellow lecturers, recalling classes, moments …

And now I’m back. Room 329, Education Faculty, La Trobe. There room is full of students – 50 or more. I notice Ranu sitting opposite. She is Indian. She has jet black hair, a full face. I recall briefly that she was a member of another class I attended last year. Beside me is Rochelle. Orthodox Jew, a mother of ten boys, a member of the PhD group that I’m part of. I look at my research notes, glance over them, read a few lines.

I rummage quickly in my pocket. I stretch my leg to make access to the pocket easier. Just in time I pull out my handkerchief, bring it rapidly to my face. I sneeze, a loud disruptive, uncontrollable sneeze. A student across the room mouths ‘Bless You.’ I am aware of the tingling sensation that often accompanies a major sneeze; my whole body seems to be tingling.

The ceiling fans do not move. It is May; winter is setting in. No need of fans. Two people in the class are wearing beanies

(As I rewrite this material into my computer, I recall the conversation a week ago with Ncube, the tall Zimbabwean student; he wrote the word BEAN in his notebook, and corrected it when I told him it should be beanie. At the time I had old English slang running through my head: Old bean. Bean = head…)

I’m back from reverie …one woman in this class is wearing the traditional head dress of her culture – a large scarf covering her head and much of her face. The carpet is industrial carpet; it is brown, ugly, the kind you don’t normally notice. Rochelle is rubbing her arm. My foot is going to sleep. A man in a bear suit just walked through the room.

Further reflections

A grain of sand. A small piece of grit. If I walk on the kitchen tiles in bare feet, and that grain of sand is there, I will notice it immediately if I step on it. There will be a brief moment of discomfort – perhaps of very minor pain. (I have always found it hard to walk bare footed; my feet have always been sensitive to any unevenness, to any small stones. I would have done poorly in the Kalahari.)

A grain of sand. At Sandy Point, if you stand on the beach at the estuary into Shallow Inlet, and look back down along the beach to the west, away from the Promontory and toward Walkerville, you see maybe 15 kilometres of coast line, the arced sweep of Waratah Bay. The beach is wide, a hundred or more metres wide – more in places. A beach composed entire of sand, hectares of white, clean sand. And how far down, underground, does it stretch? I have no idea. But the dunes behind the beach are tall – quite a climb. They’d be 50 metres high I’d guess, maybe more.

All of that sand. Such a long, wide beach, and how deep the sand? Behind the dunes, in the Sandy Point settlement, people put down bores to access the sweet bore water, purer than rain water we were once told. In the late 1960s, when my then wife and I bought a block at Sandy Point and put up a beach house, we had a bore put down – or more exactly, arranged to have one put down. Ray Henderson and his brother came one day with their drill and installed the bore. They drilled down 20 or 30 feet to the water table, installed a pipe, and a pump, and gave us running water whenever we needed it – at least whenever the electricity was working.

That is a lot of sand.: 100 metres wide (and much more if you consider that the ‘soil’ across the whole of the settlement is sand), 15 kilometres long, and down to a depth of 10 metres (say).

Echoes of Briggs Elevator … each grain is uniquely shaped. Each grain is unique in its coloring. As I write of THIS particular grain of sand, memory pulls me back to another. In an instant I am in Miss Tout’s classroom. Year 10 English, Moreland High School. It must be 1958. We are studying William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence..

To see a world in a grain of sand

I recall the frission, the sudden electric moment (the uniqueness of that grain of time, on the kitchen floor of my education, and the ‘pain’ of sudden awareness), the sudden understanding that I felt then: that you COULD see a world in a grain of sand. That is that tiny particle of matter is, in truth, a world in its own right.

… the more you look into a moment, the more you find in it…

(I have written before of Ruby Tout. I have created a story of how I became literate, of how it was through A D Hope’s A Death of a Bird that I came to an understanding of what poetry can be. Now I realise that my debt to Ruby Tout is very great indeed – and to William Blake. That insight – that you could see a world in a grain of sand – changed my way of seeing, of thinking, of experiencing. I was awakened to something.)

And then I’m dragged into that other recognition, that other set of equivalences: Count the grains of sand on that 15 kilometre beach, that 100 metres wide beach, that huge volume that has depth too – 10 perhaps 20 metres of sand. And imagine each to be a star in the universe. Each grain of sand a star, a celestial body.

As Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) observed in The Galaxy Song:

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billions stars ...
And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions
in this amazing and expanding universe

The number is well short of grains on that beach is well short of infinity. But the number is very very large indeed. But there are more stars in the universe ... And that gives a sense, a point of comparison, for just how large the universe might be...

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