Ten years ago, I lay on an IKEA couch with our two dogs and tried to write my body back into existence after an experience that is called a ‘missed’ miscarriage. The room was small and the walls, which had been textured at some point prior to our residence in the house, were painted pea green. There was a shelf of books, and doors with glass panes that made translucent the boundaries between the room and the garden, between the room and the rest of the house, between the room as a moment in time and everything that had transpired before and would transpire, endlessly, after. Attached to the room was a half bath, where I found myself a few times trapped, my internal organs having not yet adjusted to the cascade of spontaneous changes. My body didn’t know how to pee properly anymore. The basset hounds flanking me – one in a crescent against my belly, one in the curl of my bent legs – were warm and itchy, breathing the slow, deep breaths of resting animals. It was me, the dogs, and the writing.
The writing I was completing at this time ten years ago was an article for Body, Space and Technology, composed in the Fall of 2012 and published in the Winter of 2013, entitled ‘Going Home: Mike Kelley, Mobile Rhetoric, and Detroit’ (Anderson and Haley, 2013). The environmental circumstances captured in the excerpted italicized passage above were some of the most potent, the most present and have, subsequently, been the most abidingly persistent aspects of these moments in my proliferating remembered imagination of this period. Yet, of course, I wrote about none of this in the article that emerged from this place. Instead, the BST article worked exclusively through questions about the life, the thinking and the untimely passing of the artist Mike Kelley. In the ten years of aftermath of writing that piece, however, I’ve revisited the ideas and words in that essay again and again with a desire not only to adjust what I originally wrote about Kelley, but also a desire to invite my lived experience back into that writing, where perhaps it should have been from the outset. I was writing about Kelley’s sense of body and sense of place, and his use of art as a technology of paradox in representation, at a time when my own sense of body and sense of place had escaped me and I was using writing as a technology to find my own way back home.
I gave myself the assignment to create a performance text for BST during this ten-year anniversary, wherein I would, as I note above, invite my lived experience back into the writing. I anticipated that I would correct what I wrote. I would argue with my (former) self. I would question. I would endeavour to excavate what was lost from the beginning and what had been, somehow, simultaneously both lost and found in the interim.
What emerged from the experiment are three poems – or perhaps just words organized into a kind of poetic structure that follows the pattern of speech that I used to compose and record them in the first instance. But these poems fail to meet the criteria of the assignment I set for myself, in the sense that the lived experience here has not been sewn back into the writing from ten years ago at all. They fail so completely, I feared, that they should not be sent along at all. Yet, they’ve persisted over these weeks between proposal and submission. And they’ve insisted to me (privately), that they still somehow belong to that original article. That they came from him (it). And I think I realize now why. No – this lived experience isn’t sewn back into the original. And there is, in point of fact, no critique of the original embedded here. Not because a critique isn’t possible. But because this is not the aftermath that the original prompts. The pieces here are all about the children. The children that were born after we lost that first one. And the pieces, whether shaped by the circumstances of that original loss, or shaped by our absorption in the sadness around the loss of Kelley, who we did not know, but who meant something to us in ways we’ve never fully been able to understand, make clear how much our experience of parenting has been knitted tightly together with all of our deepest fears that these children won’t survive. Or that we won’t survive. That everything is so god-awfully, blindingly contingent. And yet that, within that awfulness, and that blindness, and that contingency, the most beautiful and the most perverse qualities of our lives – the art of our lives, if that doesn’t seem too embarrassing to write – are necessarily intertwined with those fears that we will not make it. That we cannot make it. That we are of this world but not made for this world.
So the writing is a house. There isn’t a way back home. But the writing is a house where some of these artifacts can breathe. And the images. Richard made these images. I asked him how he arrived at drawings of photographs that he then painted with watercolours, since this has not been his practice.Richard:
I (originally) thought just photographing the photographs would do something.Mary:
What did you think it would do?Richard:
I just thought it would create a further distance. A photograph is a representation of experience. And I thought it would expand that space in between the experience and the representation of it further. Or distort it. But still look like it. But it didn’t do that.Mary:
Why do you think it didn’t do that?Richard:
I have no idea.Mary:
Why does this approach (with the drawing and the watercolours) work?Richard:
This one’s more physically altered. More faded. Like a photograph that’s been stuck in the rain.
So here are our memories and our photographs that have been stuck in the rain.
sitting on the green couch eating yogurt with granola feeding bites to Oliver careful not to include any raisins in his bites I call to Emilia to ask how it’s going with the work I asked her to do - the quiet meditative practice of inviting one’s inner wisdom to reveal itself to answer the question of why one might choose to get off at a bus stop they had been told was not theirs of why one might choose to, as they put it, ‘spank’ their brother and then explain to their mother that they did it because they had read about it in an old book
(even though the moment in this particular book was discussed extensively with mother,
who was clear that while things like this used to happen, that it is not customary for this to happen anymore, that it is understood that parents are not permitted to hit their children ever for any reason – and that is a conversation one has had with mother many, many times on many occasions – just like the conversations about the location of the bus stop)
have these conversations been forgotten? did one think that mother had forgotten them? but mother is a water elephant, child. part of the herd Hasan saw at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, passing along the cliff’s edge where the water rushes and disappears into three hundred fifty-five feet of gravity
the devil’s pool, a natural infinity pool, on the edge of a sheer drop. And this herd, this elephant herd, passes splashing across this devil’s pool, only steps from that sheer drop. With complete clarity of purpose. With some sense, some internal compass composed of muscle and bone and electricity and synapses. Synapse, also called neuronal junction, the site of transmission of electric nerve impulses between two nerve cells (neurons) or between a neuron and a gland or muscle cell (effector).
The handwritten notes Emilia has taken while watching her math class video:Everyone can do well in math. When you learn something your synapses fire Some parts of your brain light up when you are estimating Being good at math doesn’t mean you are fast at it to deeply understand thing and relate to them When you make a mistak (sic) your brain grows.Some internal compass composed of muscle and bone and electricity and synapses. Slow down, Emilia. Slow down. Give that dotted half note in Greensleeves its three beats. Give it its time. Give it its space. The song isn’t allowed – isn’t free, isn’t permitted, isn’t able - to be the song if those dotted halves don’t get their three full beats. . . . We only have this window of time. This little window of time. And it’s closing. It’s closing. Like the sunset sounding chord progressions in Grand Central Station, the next song in your lesson book. Like the sunset seeming passage in the last lines of the last story in our Complete Tales of Winnie- the- Pooh, baby blue cover missing, pages lived right through, stories told on told on told in years two and three and four, sitting for hours - hours, reader – in the fat, bunchy, cocoon of the blue velveteen chair. Adjacent to the fireplace. Facing the windows. Ten foot ceilings. She can’t possibly be listening, I think. She can’t possibly be listening to these hours and hours of stories on end. But it turns out she really is. She really does. And she tells back to me, independently, unprovoked, unsolicited, what has happened and what it means in ways I never could have thought to think:
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
And so you see it’s not only a sunset seeming passage. It’s the final image in the book. The joined silhouette of the boy and the bear,
as seen from behind, legs lifted, bent into an effervescent asymmetrical pas de chat (step of the cat), suspended in flight above the silhouette of the grassy earth, mid-skip, towards the endlessness of the pink horizon. Sheer drop. Water rushes and disappears into three hundred fifty five feet of gravity. This is the sunset they face. With the silhouette of a bird above, just out of reach, just over the beyond, on the edge of the picture, where the pink fades to white.
And she retreats to her room to give it all some more thought. To try the stream of consciousness version of inviting her inner wisdom. Because if the meditative version isn’t bearing fruit, maybe it can be scratched out, brain on pen on paper on brain on paper. And as she retreats I come across a picture from last night. Last night, I think it was. Or the night before. Oliver, like a wild, relaxed, perplexed lion, is laying in the green grass. With a green top. And navy blue terrycloth shorts. He is anychild. He could be any child from any time. Jane and Michael. Scout and Jem. The boy. And the way the camera has captured him, it appears that he is not laying in the grass, not laying on the ground, not drawn into the weightedness of bodies in reality, but rather hovering inches, centimetres above the grass. Like a spaceship. This is an effect of the camera, which in the after-sunset and without a flash, was reaching toward the image to try to grasp at any light left, to apprehend and thereby to produce light in its effort. So the grass and Oliver, himself, are far brighter than they are to my eyes, than they are to the view of the camera. But the camera goes to a setting it calls NIGHT. And the camera determines that it will perform a function it calls Auto (3s). And the camera displays a message for me that says: Hold still. And I hold still and the camera collects the light: one. two. three. And Oliver is christened a cherub. And the grass, divine, the Sistine Chapel. I see the image because – I don’t know why. And I see the image because – I don’t know why. But I see the image and I remember that I had intended to send it to Richard. And I send it to Richard. And it is 12:10. And at that very moment I hear the distinct, unmistakable sound of choking. Oliver?!
A lion’s roar is so loud because it’s vocal folds form a square shape. This shape essentially stabilizes the vocal cords, enabling them to better respond to the passing air.
And the whole of my body is propelled in the air out of the couch and up onto each foot, grabbing the ground with force toward that sound. Oliver?! Oliver?! And Oliver is in the white room.
And his mouth is wide open as if a snake with jaw unhinged and his tongue protruding and he is grasping with his hands into his mouth toward his throat attempting to extract an object I can’t entirely see.
And I can still hear his crackling breath, I think.
I can hear the sound of air being drawn, being sucked into his body, against the resistance of some obstruction.
And everything is happening so slow and so fast:
Oliver?! Reach for the head. Oliver?! Reach into the mouth. Oliver?! Extract the object. Tiny plastic object. Baby blue. A piece of a piece of a toy. A trolley.
A word which he pronounces with extra articulation around the tr- and extra roundness in the shape of the mouth and extra enunciation of the l’s all for the love of Peppa.
Peppa and George. Oliver?! Oliver?! Oliver?! Is there anything else in there? Is there anything else? No! No! No! He shakes his head. And he cries. His tongue is dark. Is dark blue, I think. I am looking at the night sky of his tongue, of his mouth,
I am the camera reaching toward the image trying to grasp any light left.
one. two. three. And Oliver is christened a cherub. The message from yesterday. The message Richard left on my phone when Emilia and I were buying her dance clothes. The message he sent before I sent the picture today: Your son took off all of his clothes. Need help. He is dumping salt on the floor and sticking toys in his butt cheeks. Won’t stop or put on clothes.
And we are back at a park in a neighbourhood where we don’t live anymore. Five years ago. Circa Emilia’s birthday. Mom visiting and watching as all of the children in the park chip through the gravel with their pounding feet and hurtle themselves down the slide. My mother, in her darkness, says:
It’s a wonder any of them survive.
For god’s sake, Mom. For god’s sake. But - her wonder - her wonderment - she’s not wrong, is she?
spiegel im spiegel
(lit. ‘mirror(s) in the mirror’)
there is a thing I do when I leave the house away from the children or prepare to drive the car with the children in it which is to visualize the space they are in showered in blue light this is because a woman at Emilia’s preschool let me know that this was a trick I could do to protect us
Catholic woman who worked at a kind of a clinic where they supported pregnant women hoping they wouldn’t choose abortion
and this is pre-Roe or I should say before Roe was taken away
and Roe are salmon eggs and there is a baby Roe because, of course, the decision did not come in time
the court decision determining the fate of the unborn child
the fate of the child having been determined by the absence of the court decision
blue light I have to imagine it just right I have to see it in every corner I have to believe it covers every square inch of cubic volume
of the space surrounding the house or the car or wherever they are
but the blue light may be why we are seeing precocious puberty in E
because it interferes with the body’s release of melatonin a hormone that makes us feel drowsy and interrupts other aspects of paediatric endocrinology
so what I am asking is do they sell melatonin at Walgreens?
blue light and this is vintage from the time when Emilia and I did a lot of driving to dance and violin and music together and swimming and parks and snacks and shopping and the car was in two accidents in less than six months so the blue light was a protection the woman said for the time when Emilia is in a carseat in the backseat and spiegel im spiegel comes on the radio and she says being four that it sounds a little bit sweet and a little bit sad all at the same time
spiegel im spiegel mirror(s) in the mirror and we haven’t had a car accident since but I have to imagine the blue light just right I have to see it in every corner I have to believe it covers every square inch of cubic volume of the space surrounding the house or the car or wherever they are
she has the wingspan to play my full-sized violin now
and I don’t know where to place the pad in my undergarments in such a way that I won’t bleed through while I am waiting on the stage to give the arts achievement award
tie the blue wool blazer around my waist while I stand at the podium something very Gen X you just deal with things by yourself and get on with it
and I am taking my old birth control that expired 15 months ago one at a time and sometimes four at a time and last night I took two or was it three because it felt more orderly to complete the row in the blister package
so what I am asking is do they sell melatonin at Walgreens?
key sounds ignition turns over seatbelt slides [cough cough] internal combustion engine hum tires rolling carbeast over pavement Jim sat across the conference table from me and told me I was an HSP electric window rolling down he then explained electric window rolling down that this is an acronym windshield wiper windshield wiper that means
highly sensitive person
he also told me I should read more Lacan
the clouds today are sleepy depress clutch to shift soft like my puffy eyes swoosh swoosh swoosh they’re like a storybook version of puffy eyes
a real version of swoosh swoosh puffy eyes are
dark shift and hollow a dark and hollow eye deceleration a 45 year old eye deceleration which catches the shadows shift shift shift pools accelerate pools of shadows shift that rest accelerate in the space beneath your eye reminding of the bone beneath
bone which ten or twenty or thirty years ago was not so apparent because the tissue around the eye socket was more supple resilient robust decelerate pillowed accelerate soft like the morning clouds swoosh but the bone now the outline of the bone is more prominent and car growl people are made to feel they have to spend more time and money using products to conceal that space a space for which they use a product that’s actually called concealer shift shift shift conceals other things, too depending on how old you are the condition of your skin your feelings about how flat how matte the surface of your face should appear shift shift a flat a matte surface upon which new textures and colors can also be applied clutchclutchclutchclutch but I love my bone accelerate I love that sunken dark pool appearance
I love it
because at least I know it’s there I know it’s really there unlike other things in the architectures of my imagination which I have built
I have built like, as, Jim suggests, the highly sensitive person that I am
an HSP which he says fills the plays of Tennessee Williams
oh, I say
of course of course
and I begin to speak for him in the southern dialect which was the dialect of accelerate seventy five percent of the people I came from shift shift accelerate these giants shift of my childhood accelerate Jim doesn’t seem to pick up on how exquisite my dialect is having been crafted from so many years of listening
listening to the dreamy questions and angry tirades of a generation of people stuck
between profound life obligations shiftshift shift shift shiftshift circumstantial mitigations
that trip to Oberammergau that Nana had planned and Papa sitting painfully silently in his single comfortable chair in his bedroom listening to baseball on the radio making it clear she would never go she would never go and I would never go with her shift the fate which meant far less to me at the time accelerate than it did to her shift accelerate Papa the only member of the grandparent royalty that was not raised with a southern drawl but which he devised in his much later years when all of the rest of them were gone as if to reclaim the soft sweet curling space of their language shift shift shift to accelerate appropriate it for his own quaint purposes
why am I so sad? decelerate is the sadness decelerate beneath what was once the anger
is it truly about care such a deep care accelerate shift accelerate accelerate shift accelerate for the precious things I love or is it about fear that the thing I thought I had
I didn’t have
it was in my mind it was made up this deepening this new version of connection because each age
demands decelerate that the parent hum orchestrate shift an elaborate new connection based on these needs which become apparent to us only after they’ve already manifested
you’re always so late to arrive at the party shiftshiftshift shiftshift decelerate brake parking brake crank now I don’t know what’s left I feel like we’ve broken up and she’s just lingering like a moon that might soon be loosed from the gravitational forcefield of its planet or even stranger it already has been loosed but it’s obliged to do the dance for a bit longer
but you can see it tipping you can see it tipping its rotation is asymmetrical and the symmetry of the mother planet is tipping a bit too
and the moon has no idea where it’s going
it’s only outer space
in the dark
dark pools dark pools but boneless without even the hint of the trace or the undercurrent of calcium mineralized
and it’s all happening now
she brushed her own hair she twisted it into a kind of loop kind of a half bun that’s wrapped around and under and through
she did it herself she didn’t wait dutifully with a brush and the elastics and and give me instructions on how to style it she decided to do it herself
and she’s beautiful
and she’s strong and she’s capable
she’s all those things
and I want nothing more than to somehow hold her
atom in my body wants to hold her even just in my consciousness I need to know that she’s immediately adjacent [to me]
eight years ago was the halloween that I was washing my hands and glimpsing myself in the mirror and in the reflection I saw the shower curtain shaking as Emilia liked to do
having not yet learned to walk she would climb into standing pose next to the bathtub and shake shake shake the curtain shake shake shake the curtain
it must have had a nice feeling and sound as an extension of her own little toddling body but somehow in this iteration of the exercise in the fraction of a moment between my seeing the reflection of the motion and my turning around she had fallen down fallen right down on her face so profoundly I can feel the sound of the smack in my trunk I can feel the sound of the smack of her face of her eye on the tile floor
small square pastel tiles smack on the floor she didn’t know how to fall yet she didn’t know how to put her hands down in front of her or anywhere beside her to stop the fall to lessen the impact
and so on halloween a snowing halloween she was dressed in the pink skeleton pajamas with a large black eye
so spooky, indeed
five years ago five five years ago she had her first piece of chicken on the bone she called it chicken on the bone bone chicken little fingers grasping teeth searching biting swallowing
chicken on the bone was something one of the other children had had for lunch that she wanted, too
the confidence the clarity of eating a chicken on the bone
one step further away
from whatever it is we had built together over here
she would now build something new in- dependently car door opens car door shuts
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
Mary Elizabeth Anderson is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Theatre and Dance, Wayne State University. Her articles have appeared in Teaching Artist Journal; Research in Drama Education; Journal of Dance Education; International Journal of Education & the Arts; Arts Education Policy Review; Canadian Journal of Practice-based Research in Theatre; and Theatre, Dance & Performance Training. Her monograph, Meeting Places: Locating Desert Consciousness in Performance, was published by Rodopi in 2014. Recent work has appeared in Theatre Pedagogy in the Era of Climate Crisis (eds. Conrad Alexandrowicz and David Fancy, Routledge).
Richard Haley is Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Art & Art History, Wayne State University. He exhibits and curates regularly. With Felecia Chizuko Carlisle, he developed TIME/FRAME/MATTER, which brings artists together to create works in real-time, to experiment with the live broadcast as a medium, and to discuss ideas about the transmission of material and objects through virtual space. With Anderson, Haley has co-authored articles for Performance Matters; Adjacent; Theatre Topics; About Performance; and Body, Space & Technology and the volume American Dramaturgies for the 21st Century (Sorbonne Université Presses).
Anderson, Mary Elizabeth, and Richard Haley 2013 Going home: Mike Kelley, mobile rhetoric, and Detroit. Body, Space & Technology, 12. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/bst.54