Another Sunday morning has come without me stepping foot in my local Catholic Church. Or quietly climbing the steps in my beloved bell tower to ring the bells.
Its been nearly a year. Pretty soon I’m going to need to remove Bell Ringer from my twitter bio.
I managed for years to separate, however awkwardly, my queer feminist politics from the reality of being a Catholic. Actually, separate is not really the right word. It was more like a chaotic maelstrom of morally indefensible positions bashing against my spiritual heart.
But no more. Or at least not for now. The stories of abuse and the Church’s continued failure to offer any meaningful contribution towards justice and reparation have revealed it to be an organisation that is rotten at its core. If we are eating an apple that we discover is rotten, we don’t keep nibbling at the edges. We throw it in the compost and get a new apple.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m off to find a new apple.
This afternoon I am trying to kick-start my brain. It has been quite a week. Of deadlines and meltdowns, job applications, hugging strangers and deep, hard conversations. And dinosaurs!!
On Friday night I went to Jurassic Nights at the Museum and I wanted to compare a couple of things.
I had as my companion a fellow curious spirit, someone I’m not shy being stupidly excited in front of. This is important if you want to tap into your inner 5 yr old. While we were waiting for our allotted dinosaur time we wandered into the discovery centre*. It’s a great space, with drawers to open and things to magnify and rocks. I know 43 yr old introverts aren’t necessarily the target audience, but I love it in there.
Then we lined up for the Jurassic experience and the jostling for selfie space began. Seriously people, put your fucking phone away! I swear, about 80% of the people there weren’t actually present. They were filming their own experience, to be watched later in the comfort of their dinosaur onesie.
It’s so difficult to write about this without sounding like a middle-aged curmudgeon but I suspect I’m not the only one thinking it. It has taken me years to train my brain to find the quiet in the crowd. Amidst moments of shared joy and snippets of conversation, the memories I’m left with are where we just stopped. And stood. And stared. Moving through this exhibition, that took some effort.
Exhibitions like that are designed to capitalise on large volumes of traffic and big impact. The technology that went into the creation and staging of the dinosaurs was pretty impressive and I know the whole thing is required to turn a profit for the Museum. Maybe one day when the introverts rise up we will have special ‘no phones and inside voices only’ sessions at these things.
*It’s ok Nicola, the python wasn’t there.
Five point plan for coping with the horror of today;
1. Send a blast of empathy and love across to Orlando.
2. Be discerning about how much time you spend online.
3. Be critical about what you read online.
4. Make some time to cuddle a cat, baby (insert thing of choice).
**** Lets face it, there is also a good chance I will comfort bake. You have your own thing. Do that.
A tweet from Mike Jones last night reminded me that I still haven’t written any updates on the Suffrage petition project. A timely reminder to keep it alive and a neat parallel about staying vigilant about women’s history.
A quick recap. I wanted to explore ways of using the data in the Women’s Suffrage Petition Database to animate some of the stories and I enlisted friend and historian Sarah Green to help. The petition project is on hiatus until next summer, but Sarah and I did make some progress (before retiring to the pub to discuss our findings).
Using our neighbourhood (Abbotsford), we took a print out of all of the houses where women had signed the petition and quite literally took to the streets. We were curious to see how many of the houses were still standing and, in a neighbourhood with so much heritage housing not surprised to find most of them were. It was slow going, we had Alfie (aka Historydog) along. It was windy and hot.
There was a power in standing in the street, looking at the signatures and there are more questions than answers at this stage. Why a whole strip of houses signed but nothing on the other side of the street? Who were the women pressing the pavement to collect the signatures? Were they given any training, a script? Answering those will need some time in the archives and some conversations with the right people.
We also spent quite a bit of time bemusing our neighbours, loudly playing homage to Jane Anderson, Annie Victoria Bakewell, Eliza Moran, Annie Muntz, Georgina Boyle, Mary Ann Brooks, Marie Mills, Susanna Hocking, Nellie Howard, Louise Northcott, Maria Jolliffes, Lizzie Keele, …… (just to name a few).
I’ve been spending too much timely lately over-thinking something, and now here I am on Monday morning over-thinking the over-thinking.
At what point does common garden variety thinking tip over? Last week after a splendid session of ‘what does this mean?’, I texted a fellow archivist and friend;
You know I’ve realised the poisoned chalice of being archivists is that we look for significance in everything.
We do spend a lot of time thinking about the significance of things. The importance of a record, its uniqueness, its context. How it contributes to broader understanding. Our brains are trained to filter information this way. It becomes a problem when it becomes our singular obsession, blocking out other things and interfering with our relationships.
So. I am going to bless my thought bubble. Maybe tie a string around it like a balloon. Let it go but keep it tied to my finger maybe. Just in case.
The thing is, its all very well and good to say its impossible to replicate the experience of standing in the Louvre and gazing in wonder at the Mona Lisa. We need to try.
In case you missed my post yesterday I was a privileged ass. It was this tweet that reminded me of that.
It’s not just libraries that need this reminder.
I remember the first time I saw the Mona Lisa. I had a furious hangover and a wounded heart. One very much connected to the other. It was my first trip to Paris without my parents, I had just graduated from Nursing School and the world was shiny and full of possibility. I can still summon the feeling of awe, standing in front of this great masterpiece. Not just because it is a great work of art, but because of where I was positioned in that.
More recently on a trip to Austria, I visited the war museum on a whim. I found myself staring into a cabinet at a military jacket with a mottled brown stain and a hole in the front. I was a bit dazed after the previous day spent doing multiple airports, dealing with a lost bag etc. Mundane things that if you let them can take you out of the experience of travel and turn you into a bystander. I’m ashamed to admit it took more than a few minutes for what I was looking at to sink in. When it did it was like all of time and space rushed in and I was caught in that moment, looking at the shirt Archduke Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was assassinated.
I have a friend who describes hours spent in the Rothko room at The Tate with a kind of religious wonder. We all have stories like this. I’m sure if you have read this far you have thought of at least one. The reason I’m telling them now, is that I’m reading a lot about the creation of memory, and how these experiences layer upon each other and help form our character. I’m wondering if this can ever be replicated by immersive technologies? Its going to be fun finding out!