On Change

When I studied Cubism, briefly, back at university, we had a reading from – I think Wendy Steiner’s The Colours of Rhetoric. It made the point that Cubist painting erased the boundary between presence and absence. Take, for instance, Braque’s Man with a Guitar. It’s hard to make the figure out. There are traces, individual marks that we can identify – a mouth, maybe, a button on the jacket, parts of the guitar. But in some places, it’s hard to know what you’re looking at. There is no longer a clear distinction between where the figure is and where it is not. Between presence and absence. Ever since, the idea has always tugged at me. It speaks to something I haven’t come to terms with. The line between presence and absence – in the real world, it’s too sharp. When we moved to Melbourne, we said goodbye to all of our friends. We were with them, and then we were not. Six months later, one of them came over for a conference. He got on a plane and flew across and met me at the university. He was, bizarrely, incomprehensibly, just there. And we talked, and then he got on a train, and he went back home.

I suppose everybody’s thinking about absence and presence at the moment. We’re all locked down in our fucking homes. We’re missing things we didn’t expect to miss. Things that were always there, except one day suddenly they weren’t. As of writing, I’ve been working at home for two weeks. My boss left two weeks ago, on the Friday, for a new job. On the Saturday, we moved house – decided it was better to get all the change out of the way in one go. We were moving on Grand Prix weekend – everybody had turned up from out of town, and we didn’t know whether it would go ahead, whether it would make traffic awful. Ultimately it was cancelled, and we moved house in forty minutes. And then on the Monday, our work was shut and we were told to work from home. Two weeks later, I’m still adjusting to the changes. It’s not all bad – the new house has a better view, more space – I have a proper office desk for the first time in over a year. But it’s a lot to all happen at once. The line between presence and absence is pretty prominent right now. It’s more serious for some than for others. Some people have lost their jobs. Some have lost their homes, their health. Other things. Most everyone I know is taking the time to re-evaluate, to reflect on their lives and how they’re living and whether there are things they need to change.

Personally, I’ve been thinking about this side of the blog, the theology side. I’m really happy with the video games stuff – over there, these recent months have seen some of my best work. But I’m increasingly dissatisfied with my work on theology. Going over some recent articles, I’ve been noticing mistakes, bad structure, places where I’ve poorly explained what the original writer was saying. I’m not happy with it. I’m not entirely sure how to fix it, but that’s how I’m feeling. Part of the problem, I tell myself, is that I’ve been dealing with narrative and story structure for a lot longer. I was university-trained in that subject, in a way that I wasn’t for theology. If I’ve been studying narrative for, say, seven or eight years, I’ve only been studying theology for maybe four or five. And that makes me feel a little better. The theology articles do feel a couple of years behind the ones on video game narrative. Even so, I want to shake things up a little bit. The work needs to improve. Now seems as good a time as any.

That’s the thing about change, I suppose. The line between absence and presence is at its most obvious, but also at its thinnest. Different futures flit in and out, offering themselves for a moment and then vanishing. It sounds romantic, a utopian solution breaking down boundaries. It’s fucking not. My home life and my work life have collided this past fortnight, and I’ve worked pretty hard to separate them out again. I have a space in the house for work, and a space in the house for rest. I don’t touch my desktop computer during office hours. I’m writing this currently on my work laptop, but even then I’ve set up strict barriers: I have one virtual screen-space for work things, and another, separate screen-space for my writing. Currently, the separation isn’t perfect. My house is a Cubist mess, which is to say that it’s covered in empty packing boxes and half-constructed IKEA furniture. The table is neither present nor absent. It’s in flux, both potential and actual, and it’s a bloody nuisance, because we need to eat our dinner somewhere.

I dunno. We do what we can. Wash your hands. Stay at home. Act like you’ve got Corona, even if you don’t – it’s the best way to keep other people safe. Think about what you miss, and when we all get to go outside again, go and enjoy it. Tomorrow will be my third week working from home. Guess I’m starting to get used to it.

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