One thing that we know for sure, observing the devastation in the countries of the Indian Ocean in 2004 and in Japan right now, is that there are fault lines in the earth's crust, and when those tectonic plates shift suddenly, the world as we know it rocks and shakes. The scale of devastation unleashed by forces of nature leaves us stunned and quivering, vulnerable and shocked. How can life be so fragile? How could everything that we rely upon - those roads and bridges, buildings and walls - fall to pieces so quickly?
Crumbling into rubble as a result of the sudden re-shifting of some crack in the pit of the ocean floor and the creation of a tsunami of devastation? It boggles the mind. It reminds us, does it not, that human civilizations are flimsy, that the infrastructures and societies that we take for granted are far from secure. All the lines with which we organize our collective lives are nothing less than a gift that can be removed at any moment by forces far greater than us (let's call them Nature). Things can fall apart.
Beyond infrastructure, there are other ties that bind us. We share the trauma and the tragedy of massive natural disasters. We watch other human beings suffer through the ravages of calamity and we care about them, we give a toss, we weep their tears and send our spare cash to help. Why? Because we are witnesses. Because we are all part of the same species, our lives are parallel. We all have parents and children and siblings and friends. We all have homes and possessions and we all fear catastrophes. These are the lines that connect our hearts and minds across distance and geography, across culture and language. These parallels on a grand scale demand closeness and care rather than separation.
But some lines are violent boundaries that separate and delineate: fences across communities; walls across territories, entry points and checkpoints, access routes managed and brutally enforced. (Oh, Palestine!) These material boundaries reflect cultural, political, social and economic definitions about who belongs and who does not. And how resources should be allocated. Imagine a world without frontiers? (Ah, Nirvana!) A scenario in which human beings can freely flow from place to place is unrealistic precisely because resources are scarce and cultures shape definitions of who is in or out.
Aside from the big political boundaries that trace histories of conflict and inequity, other more mundane boundaries keep our behaviors in check. I believe in asking whether rules, customs, assumptions, beliefs (lines, all of them) trap or liberate, in the lived experience and passions of my simple little life. Do the lines keep something in or stop me from getting out? Do the lines say something is (im)possible? Sometimes it is just a matter of perspective. Everyone lives within an invisible cage - what's yours?
There are many things that we can do with lines. Draw them in the sand with a stick, and then take a photo. Paint them with ink on a page and then show it to someone. Use them to order rebellious words into something resembling a coherent set of ideas. Hang out some dirty laundry. Follow them into the unknown. Watch them shimmer on the horizon. Put them next to one another and colour in between them. The lines that I use to preserve my sanity are tenuous, ephemeral. Their material presence guarantees nothing yet still I try to write between them. And when simulated, I write in lines too. Words fall on to the page in a clear order, from one end to the other, forming sentences (sometimes coherent, at others less so). So arbitrary, this linguistic direction I was born into. Had I been blessed with the genius of a different mother tongue, I would think in lines that run in the opposite direction, or even from the top of the page down (but why never from the bottom up?)
Pure lines have neither ends nor beginnings - but mine always do. So here is an end, and a beginning too. The new issue of ITCH is ready for your perusal.
archive - issue 15