Friday 31st August 8.56 AM Sitting on my couch after driving home from the city.
I’d like to say that I’m freaking out, to give the story urgency. But I’m not. Looking over my notes there’s lots of things I’d like to say- embellish this, move that observation over here, connect the dots… give the story flow. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes moments are mundane, disconnected, trivial. Our minds crave the construction, to go ‘hey, here’s something interesting to think about, it’s concise, it has meaning, it’s worth your time!’ Right now I’m trying not to do that.
7.09 AM Driving out to the city in what I thought would be pre-peak hour traffic.
I tried to start the derive from where Shane suggested, but somehow it didn’t work like that. Driving out to the city I was already constructing it; envisioning what would draw my attention, pithy lines to include, snapshots of interesting moments. In my head, the derive was mapped out in images and half-formed sentences. It’s not that I dislike the ‘here now’ approach of the Situationalists, but as an individual, in a world full of other individuals, I am use to constructing. Constructing meaning, self, image, personality, story, past, present, future… And so I drove and constructed my derive.
7.30(ish) Parking near the water fountain.
Putting coins into the parking meter I am shocked out of my fantasy of words and moments and feelings. Someone calls out ‘Not till 8.30!’ He means the parking. I laugh, he laughs, we joke about wasting money. I feel good. A real human interaction with a stranger, with someone who could have just turned their head, pretended their conscience didn’t just urge them to help someone out. I’ve lost my doomy mood- how can I bitch about cities now? I try desperately to get it back as I walk to the carousel. I can’t help but worry that the scummy–looking dude over there is going to break into my car. Does everyone in the world get this paranoid?
5 minutes later The Derive-
The carousel is closed. I read the City Walk sign next to it, it tells me that City Walk use to be a road. The sentences have no full-stops. There are more sentences on the ground- something about a lake and the contents of Ginninderra House. I should have written one down. There are imprints of forks and Bogong moths- random things trying desperately to represent Canberra, to construct its reality. I’ve never noticed these things before. This wasn’t part of my plan- I wasn’t actually expecting to notice things I’d never noticed before. I was going to sit over there and then follow the more familiar symbols that make up my map of the city. I take a seat in the sun, reassess.
This is where my notes begin: ‘The sounds of heels clacking and the distant murmur of buses. The city is so quiet in the morning, I can actually notice the warble of the magpies, competing for space.’ My notes tell me that I’m struggling to place things, but that’s just because I’m looking for the things I thought I’d write about. I’m surprised the streets aren’t just full of suits, that occasionally you see a scruffy dude, a teenager, a person walking their dogs.
I go looking for Cube, which is on the other side of the carousel. On my way I notice some new statues that I haven’t seen before, it’s a pack of running dogs. The way the metal has been worked around them makes them look like they’re covered in bandages. Poor leprosy dogs. From here I can see the goon sack, a more familiar site. I can feel myself being pulled by the derive, but I don’t want to lose focus- I’ve already constructed this, remember? I back-track. I am genuinely curious to see Cube again.
I pass an alleyway, it looks interesting- maybe I’ll check it out after. Cube is right where I left it, squeezed between the crack of two shopfronts. It’s amazing how tucked away Canberra’s nightlife is (except for Mooseheads and Academy- but they don’t really count anyway.) In my notes I say- ‘Like two cities squashed into one. In the day- shops and business and work and money. In the night- clubs and parties and drugs and money.’
There’s another statue here that I’ve never seen before. Earlier in my notes I wrote, ‘it’s been so long since I roamed these streets to make them mine’, and already there are things I don’t recognise. The brass statue is flat-faced and big-lipped and wearing a hat. The plaque says it’s meant to be fun and represent something a child would draw. A child would never draw that. There is so much commissioned artwork in the city. Big stencil-artist names like Elk and HA-HA, meanwhile free locally grown artwork is removed daily. Don’t they realise Elk and HA-HA are those same ‘scummy kids’? That for years Melbourne and Canberra removed their artwork from city walls?
I walk back to the alley, keen to see some rotting garbage and crumbling edifice. But there’s a security guard up there now and for some reason it puts me off. I sit down instead. Here I want to tell you something interesting; like how I stumbled round that corner on acid once, or how I use to pivot on pointed toes in that shop, pursuing some TV sex goddess ideal. Both are true, but not now. And the shop I’m thinking of isn’t even here, it’s over there, beyond site. The corner is here though, right here and I remember the moment vividly (I think… perhaps it was that corner over there?)
Is this all the city has for me then? A bunch of memories and pre-conceived perceptions? Is it possible to view it truly as it is? My notes tell me- ‘Every bit of dirt and pipeline and moss growing through cracks leads me back to my own expectations. This is my city after all.’
Already my mind is wandering my mental map of the city, far ahead of my physical location. Over there is Honky Tonks with its delicious mulled cider and fancy burritos. And there is Hippo Bar, where the music was so dope the other week that I had to scrunch up my face and fight it off. And then Essen, where girls with shaved bits of head and rolled cigarettes hang out.
A cough is loud enough to attract my attention. Why is it so quiet? No one is talking, just sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. The birds reach a crescendo of noise and then fade away. Quiet once more. I never noticed before how the trees in Garema are growing out of concrete. There are other bits and pieces of memory… Landspeed where I use to go to buy expensive second hand clothes (vintage, of course), and Redpath where I went to buy trendy shoes- these are the places I use to go to be cool, and I’m old enough now that I can say that without cringing.
I’m still sitting on the concrete near the alleyway- only my mind casts out to those places and moments in time that I know so well. Later I walk the mental map to visually check its existence. It’s all still there. Maybe I’m doing this wrong- skipping ahead, back-tracking, presuming places of interest. But this is what my head does in the city; tries to glue it all together. Make some grand construction.
Earlier in my notes I noticed a crate tipped over a concrete ashtray and thought ‘this is art.’ I could imagine the drunk stumbling over and putting it there, a moment of conceptual ‘haha fuck you.’ Something out of place. And this, in the scheme of all things, is perhaps what I’m most concerned about when it comes to this whole city-human-evolution thing- that maybe this is all out of place? It’s not that I hate the city. There is much to love in the vibrancy of individual expression and its pursuit. But I can’t help but wonder whether it’s normal.
When I’m in the bush, I don’t feel the need to construct anything- other then some shelter and a meal. But in the city, everything needs construction. Who I am, how I present myself compared to you and you and you… Why can’t we all just eat, shit and sleep? Isn’t that all we need to do? Why do I crave that dress, and those over-sized glasses in an effort to define who I am? Is it normal to separate into individual entities? And then the last line of my notes, as I walk back to my car, and it just comes to me what I’m perhaps trying to say- ‘Is it natural to want things you don’t need?’
8.06 AM Driving back home to re-construct.
The traffic is heavier coming in then out and I’m looking forward to a coffee. The derive didn’t go as planned. There were no pithy moments of grand inspiration, no sudden eloquence. Just the same old questions, the same old feeling of being torn between giving in to the obsessive self-focus of the city, the pretence at being something better or more interesting than you are, and the higher call to fuck it all- don’t need it. And all the while, I’m re-structuring my story, working out a newer and better way to present it. Until eventually I pull into my driveway and the story is already constructed, the words only need to be written, here now…