"Chaos!" "Disruption!" "Upheaval!" "Catastrophe!"
Recent days' news of the soon-to-begin works to enable light rail to trickle out to Woden has generated angst among those Canberrans reporting and commenting on that news.
The above, pulse-quickening words are enjoying considerable overemployment by the angstonauts even though the horrors being anticipated and imagined by the excitable turnout be only imaginings of horrors inflicted on traffic flows.
Somehow, for those of us who choose our words carefully, it seems a dilution of the power of words like chaos, disruption and upheaval to use them of the slight inconveniences involved in temporarily not being quite so effortlessly easily able to trundle from A to B.
This resembles the way in which the words "devastated" and "shattered" are used by all and sundry now to narcissistically describe their feelings when some minor irritation or disappointment befalls them.
Isn't ours a city in desperate need of some fancy-free chaoses?
Surely these sorts of big, big words and the turbulent associations they kindle are best reserved for use in those truly life-changing circumstances in life. We should keep them up our sleeves for emergencies where profundity, urgency and drama are truly called for in how we use words to describe things.
In my long, misspent and trouble-inviting life I fancy I have only been truly shattered to true smithereens seven or eight times, by deaths, divorces, dashed expectations, sackings of government by governors-general, mighty heartbreaks of that ilk.
And even then, unlike poor irreparable Humpty Dumpty (not even all the king's horses and all the king's men were able put his pieces back together again), I eventually was able to put most of my pieces back together again using the glue of time's pain-numbing passage.
Readers, I confide that in that last sentence you find me trying hard to get myself another mention (it would be my sixth) in Private Eye Magazine's Pseuds Corner. Now read on.
Of course it is inevitable that many Canberrans, used to living the most comfortably-upholstered, bland, habitual, entitlement-hogging first world lives will think that the minor traffic inconveniences caused by the light rail works are major horrors.
Things sleek, privileged Canberrans imagine are catastrophes and outrages are, for most of the peoples of the world, mere bagatelles.
But your columnist, with his sacred journalistic obligation to write with reason and common sense, here rises above the common herd of catastrophists.
I testify that as someone who makes several-times-week peregrinations to Civic from my leafy aspirational Woden suburb, I am looking forward to the not-very-challenging challenges of finding new routes.
If my new drives take me to and through unfamiliar places with strange-sounding names that will be educative and exhilarating.
If it takes me longer to reach my destinations then (rapture!) this will mean more time to listen to uplifting classical music on ABC Classic, (bliss!) to enlarge my thinking by listening to ABC Radio National or (joy!) to thrill to audio book readings of fine poetry.
At the moment my as-the-crow-flies drives from my home to Civic are so inconveniently brief that, listening to classical music, one cannot fit the whole of even Sibelius' shortest symphony (the roughly 23-minutes Seventh) into it, let alone a satisfyingly complete reading of Coleridge's drawn-out but wonderful (and roughly 31-minutes long) Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
If what's laughingly called the "chaos" of the light rail works is going to enable drives long enough for me to listen to an unbroken performance of Sibelius' hair-raisingly wonderful Fifth Symphony (about 51 minutes when performed with due respect) then bring it on!
Should the "chaos" be so "disruptive" that it enables us to make commutes into which we are able to fit listening to a whole Symphony Number Nine of Beethoven (few conductors are able to power through it in less than an hour-and-a-quarter) then we will be multiply blessed by this, by yet another of the unsung gifts given us by the boon of light rail.
Then, overall, and imagining for a moment that the preparing of the way for light rail's tango out to Woden really does generate some chaos, isn't ours a city in desperate need of some fancy-free chaoses, some habit-disrupting chaosness, some happy pandemonium?
Can there be, anywhere on earth, a more orderly, regulated, ultra-planned, tightly-corseted, uniformed city than Canberra, this nanny-metropolis, this civilised city civilised to the point of tameness? Is it healthy for citizens to live in a city of predictabilities where nothing surprises, where nothing ever comes out of the blue to make new demands of us, a city that is shipshape one day, systematised the next? Isn't it part of the allure of real cities that they have an exciting underlying promise of some commotions, that they bristle with sudden tricks, treats, threats, temptations, unforeseen sights, sounds and perfumes? In real cities things are always popping up, but in Canberra poppings-up rarely pop up.
Canberra (and I write as someone who almost all of the time sings praises of the city's virtues) often has an eerie sterility about it. An absence of chaos, the ruthless suppression of the haphazard (even the forests of my beloved National Arboretum are Canberra-esquely made of trees planted in dragooned orderly queues, against all of trees' natural talents for individuality and spontaneity) contributes to the city's oppressive respectability.
Canberrans, what is to be done about this? Don't ask what your city can do for you, instead ask yourself what you can do for your presently stale city to make it a stimulating, startling place where chaoses, brouhahas and hullabaloos pop up to play their part.
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Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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