Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I've always had a tendency to 'absorb life' through the detail of things. The big picture, the dramatic events are always important of course, but, from a writer's point of view, it's like the difference between a front page news story that punches out the main facts (or fictions) and a much longer feature article, that digs beneath the surface to expose the whys and wherefores. It is the detail that intrigues me.
I like the fragments, the hints, the give-away tonal nuances of a voice, a flicker of unconscious body movement, the partial view that alludes to so much more. And so it is in the aftermath of Christchurch's 7.1 earthquake. The big picture is dramatic, gut-wrenching, profoundly moving and for many, life-changing; but on the few occasions when I have stepped outside my own home to survey some of the earthquake damage, it has been the small things that have moved me most.
What about that set of artist's pastels cast amongst the rubble - who did they belong to? What had they been used for? And that little curl of coloured party ribbon - that surely alludes to much happier times. I was drawn to the lone white plastic jug casually tossed among the broken bricks and I wondered what an article like that might say about the human race if it were dug up a hundred years from now.
I marvelled at two Japanese prints still hanging happily on 'dismembered' walls; and I fretted for the people citywide, whose offices and homes had been torn asunder to expose their private business to the world - someone's day to day movements marked on a wall calendar, their important lists and papers suddenly open to public gaze. A coloured parrot cast on its back among the rubble seemed like a garrish, slightly comical metaphor for the helplessness that most people in the city have felt at some stage during days riddled with after-shocks.
As I poked about on the edge of piles of rubble last Saturday I couldn't help feeling caught in the middle - between a slightly voyueristic urge to capture those details and a desire to respect some anonymous earthquake victim's privacy. My curiosity won out. By now, these little shreds of lives, these tiny fragments of someone's home or office, will be gone - clamped between the enormous steel jaws of a wrecker's crane, dumped into a lorry and distintegrated (except maybe the plastic jug - they never break when you want them to), gone forever. No loss you may think, and certainly that's true from a material point of view, but any one of the small things shown here may have carried a meaning, a history, a special significance that far exceeded any material worth. Who knows what stories they could all tell about their owners? And where are those owners now? Where are they living? How are they coping? And what of their futures?