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 tomorrow on Tuesday 2 December. And it's free to come. Book now.
Cate Kennedy takes Robert Hoge's memoir and builds an entirely new story around it with thirty odd years between. Use the tabs to flick between versions of the story.
[tabs style="boxed"] [tab title="Walking the Walk 2.0"] [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he brand managers told us we were lucky to have come across the article in the archive. It’s not often, they said, that we—by which they meant we here at Pro-aesthetic ™—had access to primary source material like this. They were calling a meeting with the Imagineers and the CEOs and we’d get together over an actual table and dream up the direction of the new campaign.
‘It’s an piece of writing,’ Jonathon enthused as we made our way to the Senior Executive floor for the meeting, ‘full of simple statements of insight, written with actual first-hand experience. No sales agenda, no pitch.’
The managers were right—this was rare. By the time Pro-aesthetic had started making headway, back in the 20s, its primary market was amputees who were victims of old 20th century ordinance—the unexploded landmines that peppered warzones across the planet. With global viable farmland shrinking so much after the millenium, people were forced to venture back onto those zones – across Africa and Asia mostly – and we always had a stream of candidates who were willing – desperate even – for new improved limbs to replace their old ones. We hadn’t needed much market research. But it was the raging spike across the industrialised world in diabetes that really consolidated our market share. Unprecedented demand for prosthetics really put us on the map.
They’d been boom years for a while there—new legs all round, patented Innovative NewSkin, a knee joint that won us an international prize. Now it seemed we were headed in a new direction.
Inside the boardroom Jared, our wunderkind CEO, welcomed us.
‘These are exciting days,’ he said, as he often did. ‘Our history may have felt slow and methodical, but I think, as this article will show us, that it’s only been one short generation since the inception of a brilliantly fast and inventive revolution of which we are the proud vanguards.’
He brought an image of a page to the screen. Plain text. Just one candid sentence after another.
‘Most people learn to walk just once.’ it began. ‘…Then there’s the rest of us – the leaners, the lame, the legless – a tribe who needs to walk every time we get a new pair of prosthetic legs.’ Jared highlighted the word ‘tribe’ with a single touch, saying nothing.
‘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.’ continued the article.
Jared raised his eyebrows and responded to our smiles. ‘This is what I mean,’ he said. ‘you can see we were at the very beginning of not only the technology, but also the conception of its marketing possibilities. The idea of toes being new, being novel. And you can see here how he jokes about his sister, painting the toenails. This would have been – let’s see – just a few short years before the app came out for incorporating interactive tattoos and the self-tanning feature became standard. Then the SuperReal Prosthetic Pro, the gamechanger. Remember the single idea that was based on?’
‘Imitating the compression marks caused by sock elastic on the shins,’ said Jonathon. Jared paused, looked at him.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘But not imitating, Jon. Reproducing.’ He turned back to the page and read a passage aloud:
‘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.’ ‘Hear that?’ said Jared dreamily. ‘“Golden”. “Pride”. “Pretty damn special”. That’s what we’re after, friends. That overwhelming emotional surge. How to harness that surge? How to nurture a craving for it?’ ‘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.’ ‘I know you’ve all read reports from diabetic amputees from the old days which echoed this fundamental frustration,’ said Jared. ‘They just wanted something reliable and straightforward, something that didn’t draw attention to the fact that their legs were prosthetic. And that market’s still bullish, don’t you worry. Diabetes is our bread and butter, as it were. But our customers…how can I put this. We love novelty, but we love normalising. We don’t mind spending to make a statement. And more and more of our clients feel encouraged now to purchase multiple sets from Pro-aesthetic, because they can see, as we can, that the sky’s the limit and it’s discriminatory to restrict options to consumer choice. Why not, after all, have a set for every day of the week, for each season, for every whim, if that’s what you want? Why not develop Pro-aesthetic limbs which reproduce the appearance of gradually increasing muscle tone of the calves, or adjust skin tone according to mood? You can see it already, if you’ve got the eyes to see it - in an early article like this one, straight from the heart of a person without legs – the possibility there, germinating.’
He pointed to another sentence: ‘You could really swap sets of legs I suppose – like an opening batsmen choosing the bat that best suits him for the day …Switching sets of legs just means re-adapting again and again..’
‘Thirty years ago,’ said Jared, musing. ‘Re-adapting again and again….there’s something in there for all of us to reflect on.’
‘The biggest sales spike last year,’ added the other wunderkind, Mark from Brand Mapping, ‘was Carefree Barefoot™, right? Because that just needed a conceptual leap. Why wear shoes, if you’re wearing prosthetic legs? Why not just make the synthetic soles indestructible?’
‘Thanks for bringing that up, Skye,’ answered Jared. ‘Because that kind of segues in a neat way into what I want to touch on next. That indicates a shift, the Carefree Barefoot™. A sign of a falling away of stigma, of a desire to be proud. A statement that says, ‘hey – I’m not hiding anything! I’m wearing these legs because I’m making a consumer choice to do so!’
He paused to let this sink in. ‘So what’s the way forward now?’ he said softly. ‘Where’s the path? How can we capitalise on this shift? It’s in this piece of writing, in my opinion; this simple sincere piece written three decades ago. Just let’s…look.’
He raised his finger and highlighted another fragment of text.
‘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 freedom and your burden”,’ said Jared in the same dreamy voice. ‘There’s a keystone slogan for us right there. “The real you.” And don’t you love that? “…a kind of loveliness which makes you conscious of your connection with the physical world.” That’s what we need to think about now. Something elemental and visceral – something that does nothing less than re-discover the world for you.’
He turned back to us and spread his arms in entreaty. ‘So my challenge to you today is—do we have it in us to be audacious? Where is our new market? Where is our new fertile ground?’
‘Are you talking increased vertical market saturation?’ said Skye.
Jared eyed him patiently. ‘I’m talking “golden”. I’m talking “pride”. I’m talking “pretty damn special”. There’s limited prestige in contracting Type 2 Diabetes, Skye. We can recover that prestige with fabulous product, sure, we can restore the sense of choice and control to turn that around, but what if we take that—if you’ll forgive me—a step further? What if we began to create customised, state-of-the-art Proaesthetic improved limb enhancement options for a more discerning client? A client not afraid to take the steps to be pretty damn special?’
He stared at us, and we stared back. A glimmering of understanding of what he was saying. This was the genius of Jared, I couldn’t help thinking in that silence. Seeing this in context. What begins as tattooing and morphs into body piercing and scarification and plastic surgery and then anything for novelty, anything to embellish, to strut, to revise, to reinvent.
‘You’re talking ….voluntary amputation,’ said Skye hesitantly.
‘Stop,’ Jared said sharply. ‘I don’t want to hear the “a” word. I never want to hear it again in any of our promotional copy, is that understood? I don’t even like “voluntary”. And definitely not “cutting edge”, for obvious reasons.’
A nervous ripple of uncertain laughter greeted this.
‘I like “elective”,’ went on Jared. ‘I like “pro-active”. I like to think of this as “pro-active cosmetic enhancement”.’ He looked sternly across the room, full of faces gazing back at him. ‘Language is everything,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to make choosing to incorporate enhanced and eternally youthful limbs the ultimate statement. Of fashion. Of art. Of primal attraction. Remember that word—tribe. That’s our touchstone. I know we can do it.’
Brainstorm time, because even now, in the middle of the 21st century, groups of image marketeers still swear by brainstorming. We cleared our throats and shifted in our seats. Cast covert, anxious glances at each other. Secretly, everyone was wondering what I was nervously wondering, I suspect—what would our real test be, as our company’s executive team, to publicly demonstrate brand loyalty? What would be asked of us? What is the secret for getting through the task of taking this next impossible step?
[/tab][tab title="1.5"][/tab] [tab title="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.