I AM driving to one of my jobs. The winter-bare hedges offer a view of a man standing in an empty field, with only mud for company.
What’s he doing out there, I wonder.
Some Tom Waits lyrics wander into my mind from somewhere. “What’s he building in there? What’s he building in there? We have a right to know…”
The car moves on and the man is still there, blurred by branches. He is engaged in some task or other, something agricultural at an uneducated guess from a passing townie.
What’s he doing standing there? What’s he doing standing there? I have a right to know. Or the relevant degree of cul-de-sac curiosity.
What sort of job requires you to stand alone in an empty field in the flatlands of East Yorkshire. Perhaps he is a human scarecrow employed under a new government scheme to mask rural unemployment.
Maybe his job requires him to fix something in the middle of an empty field. Do empty fields have things that need fixing? The question flummoxes me. I drive on and lose the man in the field.
This image snags in my mind, as these things do. Employment can be mysterious. That farmer stands in mud, busy doing something. The man passing in the dirty car is heading to push other people’s words around for eight hours.
Maybe the man in the field would consider that to be a mysterious living, and perhaps he would be right. He is surrounded by earth, and I am surrounded by words. The words I am driving towards today come from Ireland; sometimes the words come from me.
In my other job, the words come from students learning about journalism and a bit of creative writing. I push and polish, show them a trick or two. Some even take note of the advice from a man who is sometimes made tired by pushing words around.
The next day on the same journey, a tatty SUV pulls out in front. In the back there is a black and white collie. That dog looks at me, turns to face the front, looks out the side window, then looks back at me. The routine carries on, a sort of attention deficit ballet, a hyperactive desire to see everything at once.
That dog continues looking ahead, to the side and then behind, unable to stop the anxious dance. All that nervous energy is exhausting.
Is a collie turning and turning again in the back of a car a metaphor for something, or just a dog doing what a dog does?
Sometimes there are only more questions.
It’s hard not to feel like the dog trapped in its own unending activity. Other days you feel like the man standing alone in the mud.
Life goes on, the dog spins, the man stands.