a morning sequence to find
the softness – the belly
of time passing moorish and rich
smelling of what we fear
the giving in, the giving over
Ruth Stone said something to the effect that finding the poem is sometimes catching it by the tail as it passes by. (Elisabeth Gilbert, TEDtalk)
Before it moves on, through the landscape.
And this is familiar to me.
I recognise the existence of these creatures. I’ve heard them. Felt them brush against me. I’ve sensed them, teasing and wanting to be caught.
But they can be intimidating. Like dragons.
Sometimes speaking languages I don’t know. Or
demanding specific words, like knives, that I’m afraid to touch.
And during those times when I am not writing – the weeks
or years – I watch their shimmering from a distance
with an increasing balm of solitude.
There is always the promise of
the winter shore, the tiny
individual bubbles rising from the sand as the tide pulls out
desperate and hopeful
elusive, while unquestionably present
in whispers, soft with sighs.
A., at 12 months, doesn’t know he is standing. His weight is rocking on roundish soles, in a constant momentum, around a shifting center, while his conscious thoughts appear to be focused exclusively on the wrapping paper in his hands.
Maybe we aren’t meant to think about our feet. Not meant to flatten them against the earth, making conscious contact with the ground. The weight, and the sinking into our bodies, into the earth in Mountain Pose…
Maybe the gurus have it all wrong.
Maybe it is also about getting to know the wrapping paper and letting the rest go with the momentum.
A Freedom is a freedom is a free DOM
Ren Powell (an essay for the now defunct VIDA project Lady in the House).
“A diary means yes indeed.” – Gertrude Stein
Sixteen months ago, the man who abused me for a decade, and who robbed me of my extended family in the almost thirty years since, committed suicide. He drove his car into a semi. I watched a stream of coverage from the local news station, in what was once my hometown, just to reassure myself that it was true.
At that moment, watching the computer screen, I anticipated relief. I expected some part of me to be reborn like a phoenix from the wreckage strewn across the highway, half a world away. Or at least some spell would break, like at the end of a fairy tale. Ding Dong, the witch is dead.
I thought I would finally have my freedom.
In my first semester of college I managed to wriggle my way into an advanced special topics course in Philosophy: Technology & Human Values, 4-oh-something. It was a course that put ethics into praxis through thought experiments. I loved it. All the thinking. Imagining. Writing.
Second semester, I took two big steps back – trying to catch up – and I took an introduction class that covered everything from Plato through Arne Næss at breakneck speed.
I got sick around Being and Nothingness.
And I got married.
And I wrote my first play.
And I burned my first manuscript.
And I got divorced.
And I started taking lithium.
In 2005, I was one of three European women to attend a women writers’ conference in Kyrgyzstan. The writers in Bishkek told us a story about a poet who published a book of sensual poems that her in-laws interpreted as evidence of her infidelity. Her husband left her. The translator tried to paraphrase: She says that, if she had lived in Europe, it wouldn’t have been a problem.
Freedom is a fluid and free signifier. Context is everything.
Last winter I took an improvisation workshop with my colleagues from the high school. We were partnered and told to give each other small tasks to mime. “Say the first thing that pops into your mind. Don’t censor yourself!”
The first thing that popped into my mind? Masturbate.
Last Friday I saw a performance work that featured an actress with Down syndrome. “Anti-abortion themed Agit prop theater,” I complained. “Not my thing.”
My colleague said, “But she is free to express her opinion.”
When I worked for PEN I came to realize that there is a sea dividing the right to free speech, and the privilege of being heard.
And that no one is free from consequences:
And his government didn’t like it.
And her relatives didn’t like it.
When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors invited me to stage three of my own performance pieces within the larger context of a series of storytelling projects that he was working on for the autumn production. About a week before the premiere, I heard rumors that there was trouble. Another professor in the theater department had asked the dean to stop my work from being produced.
It wasn’t the word fuck that was the problem. It wasn’t the subject matter of sexual abuse. Or even the blasphemous texts. The professor was concerned about the work being too personal. He wanted the university to protect me from myself.
This was the same professor who, in playwrighting class, would raise his voice and gesticulate like a Shakespearean actor, declaiming his slogans: “Write to the Pain”, “Never Censor Yourself”.
In 1933, Gertrude Stein published someone else’s autobiography.
I have written things.
I have written things that I have lived.
I have written things that I have lived to regret.
My chronology is never explicit.
Ask me, while I am staring at a blank page, and I will tell you that freedom is a value-neutral state.
There is no such thing.
We are palimpsests. There is no essence, only sums – in the end.
And only then.
Meanwhile, we are continually re-formed, re-contextualised. Erasures.
Recorded, fragmented, rerecorded, as accurately as before –
We are as many stories as viewpoints, as points of contact. We will be
clouds seen through a cardboard tube on a windy afternoon
with the world on its back in a field.
We are the itch of a blade of grass on its lower back.
We were, in that present, an annoyance. Now, this gust of cold, North Sea.
We are the twelve year-old boy, living in the cave and painting
the pleasure of an erection.
We have been his mother’s rolling eyes.