Friday, January 09, 2009
Past Life - Chapter 2, scene 1
(Latest installment. To read the story in order, go to the Writing - Past Life (story) category)
The morning ride to work took Katherine through some of the better kept parts of town. She scooted along leafy avenues and through a large, well maintained, park where the Chestnut trees arched over the pathways like benevolent elders, ready to pat the heads of the morning joggers. Normally she would have taken it all in, relishing the pleasure of living and working in such an attractive city. This morning though, Katherine's thoughts were elsewhere - mentally cataloguing the items she needed to collect from the computer lab.
Entering the university campus, an unease began to close around her: an unease that gained substance when she saw the two police cars in the car park next to the laboratory block.
Katherine dismounted and chained her bike to the rack, all the while keeping her eyes on the door to the block. The police cars only hinted at what might be going on inside and she was already wondering whether there might have been another death. She approached the block with some trepidation.
Stepping inside, out of the morning sun, it took her eyes a moment or two to adjust enough to see a police officer standing at the far end of the corridor - right outside the door to the lab. She walked briskly and authoritatively down the corridor, deliberately bolstering her nerves with a sense of indignation that someone was invading her work place.
"I'm sorry Miss, you can't go in there." The large sized policeman said.
There was yellow and black tape across the doorway and inside two or three men in white coats were packing equipment and files into plastic crates.
"What's going on?" Katherine asked.
"I can't tell you, I am afraid. I'm just here to make sure no one gets in."
Katherine detected a sense of resentment in his tone, as if the job were beneath him.
"But I work here. This is our lab. What are they doing with all our equipment?"
The officer looked at her carefully. "Just a minute", he said, turning toward the open door. "Mr. Anderson, there's someone here to see you."
One of the white coated men looked toward the doorway, stared questioningly at Katherine and came across the room. His white coat was undone revealing neatly pressed dark trousers, a white shirt and tie. His garb would have looked better with a suit jacket than a lab coat, though his balding head and wire framed glasses went with the coat quite well.
"Katherine Shuuman?" It was the second time that day she had become a question: weird. Weird that it had happened twice. Weird that she should be keeping count.
"Yes, I work here. What are you doing with all our equipment?"
"All the equipment is being packed and transported elsewhere. I can't tell you any more than that. It's been approved by the university and, if you need to, you should speak to the Vice Chancellor. We have his full authorisation to remove the equipment."
Anderson smiled. His tone wasn't brusk, but it was business like and firm. The smile was just a sweetener to the bad news. Katherine knew bureaucracy when she met it - there was enough at the university - and she knew there was little chance of getting past this bureaucratic white coat, but it was worth a try.
"I have some of my personal research papers in there for my PhD, can I retrieve those please?"
"I am sorry that won't be possible. My orders are to pack and ship everything." He laid special emphasis on "everything".
The exchange had been short but already Katherine was getting impatient at the brick wall being erected in front of her.
"How did you know who I was?" she asked.
White coat paused momentarily then, looking her straight in the eye, said "I was expecting you. Good morning Miss Shuuman, we will contact you if we need anything." With that, he turned and walked away.
Contact me, Katherine thought; who do I contact?
Clearly it was time for a visit to the Vice Chancellor's office.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Just taking a short break from serialising “Past Life” to answer a rather fundamental question that a reader emailed me … why do I write?
That’s one of those questions that causes me to pause and take a deep breath before diving in, because it has answers on various levels. Deep down I would say that it goes back to our human nature as creative and expressive beings – life seems to be driven by an almost universal desire to express ourselves in creative acts. Of course there are many ways to create (creating mayhem not excluded!) so I guess the real question is, why have I chosen writing as my creative medium.
Well, first, I have to say that it’s not just writing; I find photography to be a very rich expressive medium too – sometimes a picture will say more than words ever can, but at other times a subject needs the richness and more precise expressiveness of words.
At heart, all writing is creative; not just the so called ‘creative writing’ of university courses. Even a technical document is creative; it’s creative because the writer is seeking to produce an artefact (book, article, web page, report … etc.) that precisely transmits an idea or concept from one person’s mind to another person’s understanding. Given the potentially poor ‘signal to noise ratio’ involved with language based communication (written or spoken) that task presents a uniquely creative challenge for every communication.
Unlike the spoken word, writing allows a more considered, polished, use of language – we can draft, revise, perhaps have our work peer reviewed and tested, before we finally deliver it. And when we do deliver those carefully crafted words, they do not go out as sound waves that are heard once and then lost; they are captured in some form that gives them substance and life. It’s the same with photography; its one thing to say “look at that” to another person, but an altogether better experience to attempt to capture that visual experience in a picture that can be shared with a wider audience.
So, to sum up, both writing and photography are ways of creating richly expressive artefacts that transcend the ‘now’ moment. To create either requires both analytical and intuitive thought process that use both sides of the brain, and overall I find that a very rewarding and satisfying means to helping and giving pleasure to others.
Of course it’s always possible that the reader’s question was rhetorical; if that’s the way you write, why bother ;-)