Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A narrative response to Mark Swords

­If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change

A painting by Mark Swords

Exhibited in the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery's Building Sights 
4 – 27 November 2010

A fictional, critical response by Susan Edwards

Every day Richard got up at 7am to make himself ready for work. For convenience sake he wore dark navy trousers, black shoes, black socks and a pale blue shirt. He had three pairs of trousers, 5 pale blue shirts, and 5 pairs of black socks which meant that for convenience sake he only needed to do his laundry once a week. It did make weekend dressing a bit more complicated and confusing as he had to figure out a weekend arrangement of clothes, but after fussing with this issue for a month when he was 21 years of age, he had happily worked out a system of blue jeans and flannel shirts in the winter and cotton t-shirts in the summer. Richard worked as an actuarial technician with a life insurance company. He loved his job. He predicted life expectancies, birth and death rates, health probabilities and columns of numbers gave him an enormous sense of reliability and calmness. Richard loved his job. After college he found a house 1.5 miles from the insurance company, some days when the weather was fine, he could walk to work. He liked doing that as it allowed him to get to work, save money and exercise all with one activity which was very efficient. His parents had died 3 years ago which left him and his older brother Joe as the only remaining family. Joe had a wife and small son. He worked as an airline pilot and traveled all over the world. Richard figured Joe never walked to work.

Every day, Richard would dress, make his lunch for work, walk or drive to the insurance company which took exactly 7 minutes if he drove and there was no traffic in his way. It would take him 23 minutes if he walked. He passed the local park, a supermarket that only sold food and a lovely church on his way to work. On the days Richard walked, he sometimes would stop at the church when he returned home, to go inside and sit in the cool dark space. The stained glass windows fascinated him. They reminded him of puzzles with all their tiny colours of glass, stuck side by side. The stained glass made small planes of colour and those made bigger planes of colour and then the entire window was divided into spaces and squares. It looked very complicated, but in fact was very simple as they were only blocks of colour. They reminded Richard of the lines of numbers he worked on all day. Looking at the stained glass windows inside the church gave Richard a very calm feeling.

On the weekends, some things changed. He did not go to work and he did not pack his lunch. He did things on the weekend to make his week run more smoothly and remain the same. He washed his laundry and shopped for his food. He would clean his car and fill it with petrol. He would open all his mail that he had collected during the week and sort and attend to it.

He did not have a girlfriend and did not think about a girlfriend because he was not really lonely. His brother would invite him for dinner at the holidays. He enjoyed his brother’s house. It was noisy and smelled like cooking all the time, but he knew it made his brother happy so that made him happy too. His nephew Adam was 4 and liked to play trucks. Sometimes Richard would sit down on the kitchen floor with Adam and make truck sounds or engine noises and play with Adam.

Richard was happy, he loved his job, he loved his family, he liked his house and he loved how each week was like the week before. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

It was on a Thursday afternoon that Richard got a phone call. It lasted twelve minutes and changed his life forever.

For Richard, life had been humming along with the incredible contentment of sameness. Some would think it was his time to have things change. That he was now deserving of his share of struggles and upheaval, but that might not exactly be true. Richard was kind, he helped others if they needed it, went about his day fulfilling his obligations, he paid his bills on time, never cheated and had no reason to lie to anyone for anything. Certainly karma was not waving him down to give him his fair share.

Richard hung up the phone and sat at his desk. The person on the other end of the line had informed him that his brother Joe and his wife had died from injuries in a car accident less then 2 hours ago. Richard needed to identify the bodies. He had also been made legal guardian of Adam as he was the only living relative left as Joe’s wife had been an only child. As he sat, he wondered if he should stay the remaining few hours left at work. He thought perhaps he should start by telling his boss he was going to need some time off work. Richard was truly saddened by the news. He did find it amazing though that his brother and sister in law had beat the statistical odds in dying far earlier in life then actuarial charts predict.

Every day Richard looked at numbers and statistics to determine the odds of how things would stay the same given the probability of disasters happening in a person’s lifetime. He did not have any deep spiritual concepts that he used in his life for guidance and comfort, but he did have a vague idea that life presented enormous possibilities for chaos. If life were to have an image he thought it would best look like the stained glass windows he liked at the church. If one stood very close to the windows, all the colours and forms looked like a jumbled up, tangled mess of nothing, but standing back it took on a recognized shape and the mix of colours and forms fell into place like a well formed puzzle. The trick Richard mused was picking up the right shape to fit into the correct space and if that didn’t fit, then to pick up other pieces until one piece did fit.

Life was filled with ordinary moments of ordinary people. When a person yearned for dreams, wishes and goals, then those ordinary moments appeared to be extraordinary, but Richard knew they were not. Richard knew that probability showed most things stayed the same, small amounts of things would change and if people wanted things to stay much the same then sometimes they had to change to keep things the same, but it was all an ordinary phenomena and nothing of any extraordinance was occurring.

In a few months time Richard returned to walking to work and on rainy days he would drive. Now he had Adam with him. The nursery school that Adam went to was 2.2 miles from where Richard worked and when they would walk home Adam liked going into the church with Richard and looking at all the statues and stained glass windows. For convenience sake, Adam had 4 pairs of jeans, 5 cotton t shirts, 7 pairs of white socks and a pair of tennis shoes. This made it more convenient to do laundry as Richard only had to do two loads once a week. He packed two lunches instead of one.

On weekends, Adam would help Richard wash the car, do the grocery shopping and sometimes they would go to movies if something funny was playing. At the nursery school where Adam attended, Richard had met a young woman named Charlotte. She liked Adam and Richard had discovered she liked him as well. Sometimes they would all go have ice cream together or she would invite them to her house for dinner at holidays. Adam would bring his trucks and toys and while she cooked he would play on the kitchen floor and Richard would play too, making truck noises and engine sounds.

Adam was sad when he thought of his mother and father being gone, but he loved the house where he now lived. He loved Richard and he loved the hours he spent at the nursery school. He loved the way Charlotte smelled so nice and how she smiled. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

Image courtesy Kevin Kavanagh Gallery.

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