Although I wasn’t thrilled with the work that I was producing during this phase, I found the quiet, meditative tinkering to be quite enjoyable. The matchsticks had sparked to life in the hushed heat of mid-summer; now I settled into the stillness of deep winter. The world reduced; I was turning inward.
At first I didn’t realise this. Gradually though, I became aware. These koans that I was trying to produce, these Zen toys — they weren’t really suggesting anything profound. They were at turns too obvious or too oblique. But as I worked, I continued with my now-established practice of making notes about the process. And in these moments of observation and reflection I began to see what my tinker toys were actually suggesting. Even more so than the matchsticks, the meaning of these artefacts was in their making — the end results were almost entirely irrelevant. And the message here was not merely one of process as a form of practice, but spoke more directly to the relationship between practice and practitioner.
To fully grasp the meaning of this message has required two years of evolution in both the project and my thinking. To begin here, at the beginning: First I saw the metaphors. My inner world was speaking through these objects, and the ways in which I toyed with them.
I’m captivated by the magnets; by the repelling force they generate when the matching poles are pushed together. Inanimate yet so very animate — like an invisible life force. And how one will inevitably flip if they’re pushed too close together. It becomes a game of polarities and proximities, working with this force.
And then several days later:
M—— being my new(ish) love, and the magnets being a clear parallel to the forceful oscillations of our relationship thus far.
The correspondences continued: with the spinning tops as I whirled my way through several months of personal and professional chaos; with the rolling marbles seeking stillness as I began to feel like I was losing mine.
I see it. Before I can go any deeper into this project, I’m having to go deeper into my own life. I’ve felt brittle and anxious for so many years now — since moving to Australia, really. I haven’t had a lucid dream since Manchester, or even a particularly vivid one.
It was true. The year I’d spent in Manchester doing my MA had been nearly psychedelic in its singular intensity. At times I almost felt as if I might be going mad, so unhinged from all previous constraints had I become. Creativity permeated every aspect of experience; the world was rife with messages and meaning. Even then I knew it wouldn’t last. I assumed that I would find an equilibrium, though — a way of working with this magic that was more sustainable. I never thought that it would disappear completely.
But it did, blotted out by the harsh glare of a reality that I did not anticipate when I rather impulsively moved to Australia. And I could see now that the game would go no further without this essential magic. If I wanted to play with ambiguity and uncertainty, I first had to rediscover how to play.