Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O'Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other's work in series, with changes tracked between. Lost in Track Changes is coming to paper and ink. We'll be launching the print edition of the project at Avid Reader in Brisbane on Tuesday 2 December. And it's free to come. Book now.
Our final run through the track changes begins with Robert Hoge's memoir and a pair of legs. Or a few pairs. And Kylie. And Dannii. Next week will see this work transformed into something else entirely.
[tabs style="boxed"][tab title="Walking the Walk 1.0"][dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost people learn to walk just once.
An unlucky few need to stumble through it a second time after a schism of the back or a grody snap of the ankle. Then there’s the rest of us – the leaners, the lame, the legless – a tribe who needs to learn to walk every time we get a new pair of prosthetic legs.
New prosthetics can come with a whole range of changes – they might be a different shade of dark cream, they may be lighter, stronger, more reliable. Once I collected a new pair and discovered that instead of a crescent moon of rubber at the tip of the feet, they suddenly had toes. My sister was so excited, she stole my legs so she could paint the toenails a rich, dark purple. Didn’t suit my skin tone at all.
Sometimes – the golden growing summers of my youth – my prosthetic legs would grow lengthen and all of a sudden I’d be 5cm taller. There wasn’t much about my appearance that filled me with pride when I was a kid, but leaving school one afternoon the third shortest student in class and coming back the next day the third tallest was pretty damn special.
With new feet came new sensations, with a new artificial knee came new challenges and with longer legs came a whole new gait. Imagine getting out of bed one morning and you’re 7cm taller and your knee is 3cm lower. I’d stand up after putting on the new legs and feel like I was Dannii Minogue in a Kylie Minogue music video. I’d stand up, sway, lean to one side to stop swaying, over-correct and fall over – the strangest of locomotions. Try again. This time reaching out for the wall to hold myself up. Eventually I’d master standing up but everything else felt different – my hips, my back, how far my hands were from the ground. Putting one foot in front of the other should be simple, right. It should be dependable, knowable. It should be something you could rely on.
It’s not a small thing. It’s not like just getting a new pair of shoes because you get new feet to go inside them too – feet that are firmer because they’ve never been used. Throw in a new ankle to join it all to a new shin and maybe a new knee as well. All of that newness works instantly, universally to remind you of that one simple fact – you don’t have any legs.
If you had legs, you wouldn’t feel like you were walking on a foreign planet. You wouldn’t fall over putting them on the first morning you had them because you hadn’t ‘walked in’ the new set yet. The most disconcerting – legal – out-of-body experience you can get.
Maybe you know something of the feeling, like when you drive a new car for the first time. You might have had the old car for three years, maybe five. You were used to its quirks, how the right blinker was just that little bit sticky; how there was that slight knock when the engine went from first gear to second. How there was that slight dint in the licence plate that you never bothered getting fixed. Then you get the new car. The seat is different. The engine purrs but it isn’t the same. Every time you try to turn a blinker on you end up with windscreen wipers going instead.
So how do you do it? Sheer necessity helps, I suppose. You could really swap sets of legs I suppose – like an opening batsmen choosing the bat that best suits him for the day. But mostly there’s no going back. Once you start down the track you need to keep going. An average person might take two-and-a-half million to three million steps a year. You can normally adapt to new legs in less than a week – maybe 25,000 steps or so. Switching sets of legs just means re-adapting again and again.
And there’s kind of a loveliness about it which makes you always conscious of your connection with the physical world. Your brain pauses for a second and re-discovers the world for you. This is the first time you’ve got in a car with these legs, and it feels different. The first time you’ve walked downstairs. The first time you’ve chugged up a hill. The first time you’ve tried to run, hoping that maybe just this once you’d be able to run. But it reminds you for just a few days that you’re not really connected to the Earth. You – the real you – is floating three feet above the ground. Your legs are your freedom and your burden – your Dannii and your Kylie.
Walking becomes so ingrained after a while that when you get a new pair of legs you really do need to learn how to walk again. And it wasn’t like it was easy to do in the first place. Now you’re older; maybe fatter and certainly more set in your ways. You’ve worked out – walked out – the kinks in your legs. You know it’s easier to step onto the sidewalk with your right leg because that’s your leg with the real knee – the one you have more control over.
So you do it. You stand up, you lean, you stumble and fall and feel like every single step is Armstrong on the moon. You feel this crazy ambivalence to these tools of torturous freedom. You haven’t worn them in yet. They rub in all the wrong places. You lift your left foot too high and put your right leg down too hard. You shout for joy because the new legs are lighter and fit better – not right yet – but better. But you crave the comfort and sameness of your old legs like someone quitting smoking craves having a pencil to roll across their fingers.
So, how do you do it? What is the secret for getting through the task? Like mastering most things it ends up being pretty simple – just keep putting one stump in front of the other.