The Palace of Humming Trees

Excited to announce a collaborative exhibition with artist Jack O’Flynn and curator Katie O’Grady, happening until 8th August at French Street Studios in Glasgow.

~

The Palace of Humming Trees is a collaborative project between artist Jack O’Flynn, writer Maria Sledmere and curator Katie O’Grady which took place from April to August 2021. This collaboration will be showcased in an exhibition at French Street Studios, Glasgow, featuring new works from O’Flynn and Sledmere which travel through poetry, sculptural entities and dreams of impossible possibilities.

This project was formed in a concert – along mixtapes, Tarot readings, zoom calls and shared research. We present it here as multiple sensual journeys; to an exhibition of hyper-foxes and tenderly crumbling foliage, through a publication of lichenous illusions and rummaging thought and in a selection of music and voices which trailed our imaginings. 

Intertwining themes of ecological thought, world building and re-enchantment we sought to un-ravel the question: how can we act and think in this present moment to ensure positive change to our relationship with the world around us? The action and thinking which we wandered became located in small and monumental formats – enacted in the everyday and in how we create and build the future. We were enveloped by uncertain certainty, whether apparent through non-human thought, the possibilities of visual art and poetry or the endorsement of magic. Living in a world brimming with unease by climate crisis and extreme inequality – brought upon by extractive capital, far-right strategies and carceral logics – we wished to communicate a different model of awareness that could refuse these structures and re-imagine being a Being. 

Exploring this sentiment O’Flynn and Sledmere have created a body of work that opens a portal to a forest of vibrating thought. One of galloping states, lockdown meanderings and a lyrical suffusion through language and art that prompts how we can think and imagine differently. 

Please enjoy this digital showcase of The Palace of Huming Trees and, if you can, come to visit its physical iteration at French Street Studios, 103 – 109 French Street, Glasgow. Open July 30th to August 8th 11 AM to 5 PM (closed Monday and Tuesday) with a preview on July 29th 6 PM – 9 PM. Book to attend exhibition via Eventbrite here and to attend preview here.

More info at the exhibition website.

The exhibition also comes with a book of poetry, illustration and essaying, The Palace of Humming Trees.

Available to order for £12.99 – Contact details for ordering available on the website above.

Playlist: January 2021

Not long ago a blog was destroyed. Inside the blog was a forest; what they called forest but by all intents and purposes was more the unknown contribution to chronology which made up many pages of codes and trees. Codes and trees. The liquor in a small pool was seemingly endless dirty martini, where olives float in lieu of lilies. I meant to say it was destroyed and the incident being customisable, now to look back, I see a particular man at sunset wielding buttons. Pop, pluck, glock. Boys share the same blouse as me. Then gingham and dungarees to write in the blog another hour or more, sleeves rolled, plunging seasons into seasons. Keep yourself sewn. Don’t get shot. This winter will you change your life. This summer will you lose it. All of the paper incineration. Sound of artificial camera flash in the dark, razor the code from the trees. This change, not the life, not necessarily. Scrolling the trees. 

What will it take for the server to work? There was a dark room of my childhood filled with blinking lights, layer-bake hard drives, wires and cables. Bringing you coffee, I go there closing my eyes to the electronic warmth at the heart of the office. Whose office is this? How can I work there? Will you give me a job? I am a fine typist / I like the word ‘twilight’. 

But not long ago, a blog was destroyed. We were in generic city, you know the one with buildings, and something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? We kept left-clicking the breeze to stop, but the way your hair looked, lifted — I could’ve almost gone with it, the hum and song of the breeze just pink. Remembering lines like January is endless and ‘the Northern Line is the loudest’ as I consent to give cookies, consent to be multiplied in the archive of giving me moments in capital city; where is my iPod? Small things you can do, exchange of fruit, the scale of it. Something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? My blood was all scattering berries, clots, poisons. We knew the album was amazing. We said this many times. I said we have to see a doctor. Just a guess but the crescendo fucking kills me. I breathed too hard it was scary. The road was quiet but something swerved into us. Couldn’t tell if it was a truck or a set of emotions. Kisses from France. I was climbing to get to the good bit. This is a painful song coming on I won’t talk about further, being dull and adult, seeing old college friends lost. What is a moon. I said we have to see a doctor and we did, we got in line outside with our masks; it was a time before masks but I add them. Losing your pearls, losing your solace barometer. Remember X overmind of me. We were turned away at the last. Did not see doctor. Jellyfish. I wore the blouse that all the boys wore, proudly.

Driving to Brighton, not driving to Brighton.

The ocean washed up masses of cash, bank notes sticky with kelp and salt, tons of pennies in lieu of pebbles, bits of glass. I paid for a book of poems with a cheque signed on behalf of my father. I paid for my life. The blog lived inside of the sea. It was being destroyed and so the blog called tsunami. It had a world in it. Tsunami_93. Commission you tell me the endless failures of Wednesday, Thursday, watching the ants by the ocean accumulate broadband costs. Watching the ants and cash. Spiralling ants and cash. I said something swerved into us, it was fucking horrible. I saw it, the long hard crash of the numbers, upwards. The colony of allied ants just clicking away in the dark like we already knew them. A politician comes and goes from the hole where you fall through, nightly, clutching at sand. A burlesque of sleep. The patent glitter of policy, it gets in your body. The ants made a moat of the hospital.

Silently, you came to town in my closing dream which was killing our molars from kissing too much in any forsaken house by the sea, endless you climb inside me — figure this in, you figure this out. Sometimes the text at the bottom of the page just disappears. Tell you a blog was destroyed and my concern is for glutinous sentences, stretching. Planetary hardship was relative. Tell me, hold me. I write about dying in my diary, how will it feel to be six or five and not knowing about the dying, how will it feel to look back knowing you lived through it. Tear off the blouse the boys gave to me. There is a coming through of such dreams I have had, splashes of sick pink light, infinite distance — and can I say the animal I never met was nice, they were so nice, the album was amazing. The animal pronoun that therefore I am. Something swerved into us; it was the whole fat year of pink rain. Where a blog was destroyed, you put down the stone. It is shaped like a heart that needs convincing to beat.

Kept diaries of numbers kept easy job kept crying. Felt like portraits of femmes in rose blush and yellow and emerald green, leaking, felt like looking into you back from Matisse or wherever it was in generic city we saw what doesn’t is seen. Domestic bliss. I remember the wires in my childhood were totally opaque. Quiet symphony of dialup and call you. eBay and a “flurry of cosy ideas” says eye, closing for the last time, plated. Down a long gold tunnel and DNS error. “Are you alright? Are you alright?” I hate this question but whacking a drum and bass beat right HERE was good, if originally ballad but easy

to me, this song is less about a particular situation, and more about that feeling you get looking back
on things that have meant a lot to you, or you
feel could have meant more

I hide the application anyway. It is spring 2008, no forests exist, the bathroom sounds of lemongrass scent and harshest bleach. I’m sick. I’m sick of parks I want genuine forestry and a place to be lost and call you. I remember football on the low green, barging into silver, not knowing a wave meant more disease. Not knowing the waves as anything other than the earnest self-abuse of the sea. Salt heal. It hurt to listen by the long thin phrase of your cigarette, smoke getting up in the hours of my eyes. I remember kissing in tents / remember running home drunk from school. Remember who watched us. The man who squared-up for no good reason other than the sound his own voice made, which was a sound of bright cash howled from the sandy reminder. There are memory dunes where stuff piles up, stuff gets sucked or dragged away. Stuff gets pissed on. Something swerved into us and we did not phone the cops. I carried the hurt for a while instead. Walked from one end of the green to the other. Now in the city. On the mobile phone a big red sound passed beta-waves through us and you asked, “what was that?” and pleaded “please don’t die”. I minimise the year, I always reply. I fantasise portals to London.

Dreamt the prime minister was crying on Mars for the ninth time and it was a ninth wave and it was very bee loud it was glandular. Second wave, third wave, watch out for next winter. A man who swallowed all of the cash of the sea was blatant in wanting to touch this and ruin my life. It hurt to listen. A novelty sermon on visions, ecstasies, roses and bread. Something H.D. says about a jellyfish and will you sign up for infinity melt club — it requires the overmind, sad to miss, buoyed up by salt water always. We passed the number we wanted not to pass. Will Alexander writes that poetics is ‘a place where language becomes a fertilised concentration that explodes’. I’m talking about everything we used to do. Another life. Voice barely makes it to audible status. Every month I turn fifteen again and my mouth tastes of Yorkie bars, acid, ice cubes painted with crude sweet oil, Diet Coke, extra salt. Maria, it says, and I wonder. Someone is a shadow they are painting the walls with it, more and more, the paint fizzes up. Crude sweet oil, the blouse of the boys. Softly you bring me the water, more of it, enormous with cash, I hate it. I mix all the paint with us. 

That person who used to work, I miss her. January is endless. Should the blog be destroyed? It was Platonic like kissing the stone at the place where sunflowers grew upside-down by a crumbled temple, they let us go. You say, “this is wretched” then turn on the radio. Elliott Smith in front of a mural, covering The Beatles. That I a girl from Maybole would like to be consulted; would like consultation. Because. The doctor turned us down. The river was frozen. Salt. Pretzels of fallopian tubes. Someone on the radio said poverty. The blog consolation of be love because you. Remarkably clean air I remember? What comes next is older and older, how early the cruel was, forecast, thinking in paradigms and not glassware. “You look young!” It might be I always hold out. Still you smash, the failures of Tuesday, no melatonin. Blissing Chamomile Mountain. Payne’s Gray, Davy’s Gray, Naples Yellow. Salacious impression of what is a gesture. I have all these dreams about ladders like—

å̷͈̳̉u̵̞̰͊̐̕ba̵̱̺͌͊̏de

The problem of the marry a cloud of the martyred morning
In the soft-touching laminate space of the morning
The promise of a landing, striped by the morning
We edit cumulus, collect yon fish by the morning
A rain passed wetly over our morning
The actual cat got into the morning
My proletarian alignment against the morning
Is only a maths class happening this morning
Did you want palaces in the light of this morning
To feel you never got hurt this morning
When it swerved into you in the morning
Of comparative hotness at morning
Equivalent to mattresses morning
That planets lie down inside us, warming

And the flowery agenda of what they would do to avoid this scarcity. Kept saying science, science like a car advert, £500, kept you awake at night. Salt. The technology trusts us! Liberating production to what freeing from labour a person being careful would order milkshake. Water this artificial strawberry. Audit the communal blog was destroyed. Salt and oil. A wheat field in a movie. I remember aspartame sunrise at which close to the not-top of Louise Bourgeois’ many ladders was a droplet of hooch blood, red-to-punk-pink. Under the fairy lit trails of Tuesday, I said FUCK YOU to the motorist, I said OUCH! Today is Blue Day, tomorrow is Green Day; expropriation of serotonin to Bad Day, it is quite a state; put back ice that you stay on, tulips; a sugar-lift etch to keep say [“I miss the nineties”] belong to my early days of still love indie. Weeks become necklaces I am choked inside them. Tending the forest, drive out of the city. Impossible tacos in landfills pass us, having never harmed animals. Nothing swerved ever in heaven; you get really close.

Study the lightning-shaped graze on my knee. 

~

Burial – Chemz 

SOPHIE – Is It Cold In the Water?

Honeyblood – Super Rat

Billie Eilish, ROSALÍA – Lo Vas A Olvidar 

Sharon Van Etten – Serpents

Widowspeak – Sanguine 

Infinity Knives – In The Mouth of Sadness

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

Xiu Xiu, Liz Harris – A Bottle of Rum

Fishtalk – Hummingbirds 

Los Campesinos! – Got Stendhal’s

Tim Heidecker, Weyes Blood – Oh How We Drift Away

The Antlers – Solstice – Edit 

Songs: Ohia – Boys

Field Medic – chamomile

Vagabon, Courtney Barnett – Reason to Believe (Karen Dalton cover)

Sun June – Everything I had

Coma Cinema – In Lieu of Flowers

This Familiar Smile – Flawed Fables

Hamburger – Supersad 

Donovan – Colours 

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

The Replacements – Skyway 

Poem: Chrome

1874_001.jpg

Chrome

Wish you would tell me where we’re going
as though in a car, snaking down the road
instead of waiting for breakfast
waiting to say this and chewing your oats
It’s dark outside, gets darker every day
this isn’t supposed to happen
I only listen to radio on Fridays why is that
like a song or something
everyone is leaving the party already
afternoons are reminiscent
of last week’s afternoon, come over later
and tell me what you did
I feel quite sick when I think of a lyric
and a stranger asking if I have any filters
You could put a white tip at the end of the poem
like pushing oil into cuticles
Nobody glides down the rain like you do
Which is lifted all bent from a love song
milder than cheddar
You listen on Sundays for wine, she comes out
of the willow to speak to you
coyly undoing her hair or herself
There is no reply, I hold in my grammar
with a bell for the wheel of the eerie freedom
something better than nothing
is like aaah is like aaah
I think this is the song you wanted
me to send, edgewise
sounding the commute back to verb
and speaking in frail duration
send me the book
like send me the lemons in nets
I tear up my tights on your thorny gaze
said nobody ever
one or two poems to think of the future
coming all orange across my eyes, ode
to the hairbells, ode to spring
Nobody does better the song of your loss
becoming this twice
aligned with health, somebody calls
the corner out
Even circles of knitwear have their factions
This is what it is to order a reef
when the coral runs out
Nobody will visit
wherein all the albatrosses start to sing
of plastics, clattering outwards
the slick of your thong is a sorry
I did not want to include
in modes of deception, lesser
named firs for timelines
going on to wherever
the trees can’t stop like dubstep
I know he’s still alive because he updates his tumblr
with black and white versions of parisian film sets
What is the speed of your smile times time
I’m the you in the nobody, ask me a question
Twitter matters
Align with astral cancellation
very bad glasses occurring small
sweet sertraline as if we—
dream in which on the hill you kiss me
and I can’t call a doctor
rolling over the hunger
looking at anything for the memory
sparkle chips click in my eye like granite
Haven’t felt this good about feeling for ages
I could say there’s a veil
dragging the face into thrill of the lyric
repulsive sense just is
ice jam
made to appear like sickness
lifting weights in little reps
Always seven or ever eleven
salve for lateral acid
lifting my arms for the shape of you gone
I don’t want to leave the house today
I don’t want to stay
I don’t want to leave my dreams tomorrow
Who was it that wanted their post just so
and tripped over horses
how clean he looked, sans cigarettes
we look better like light I suppose
castles are glass apparitions
when pressed against cereal
somebody lighting a candle at noon
This final luxury, fold me fast
my wicked friend how are you how are you
I ate all the rotten satsumas
a cascade of raisins
You see of the sky is it stars
or loops of moon
coming everywhere over like fruit
A bike ride, spectacular orbit
undoing that future
share of negative, however pristine
you will your spirits
they glide, authentic
collapse is verse of vice
Dark logs in the fire of order
sharing a wary winter
therein you see me not as it seems
not as in dust or starry application
this diminishing
dictionary effect of your all-sorts
soft liquorice next
sorting the necklace
It got really great before it stopped being anything
the girls are just men
and the men are waves like william said
is it the string that fallates a sea
change in me
the cloud is light
the cloud is heavy
something comes on in the breath of the lethe
I wish I could write like her it seems
wingless to admit this
Drowning dreams me
A pallor of belly and sound
What we read then we read only as extract
locked in the lyre of mind
a fragile cant of flint and ticket
a voice comes out of the hurricane
like sugar and the serenity tint of your missive
I would be wreath and tea, I would be holly
and berry your eyes just so I like them
shinier on high apparitions of pills
pain-wise it’s easy to breathe
absently-minded the child again
sits on the hill, stirring a little
leaf with its fist
and singing of latitude, sisterhood
lustres of puberty hurt
a poem rolls up
a play in the middle like sequins of toffee
all cooked up
heroin-rich continuum
babies are blue and twirling their words
fertility is lyric
lately a georgic thought
updates the landscape, refresh of its disk
in embers, cabling dark a sigh
a fish hook, best to cock
one’s eye at the sun for money
evolving lizards
caress the sand
and scatter monopoly houses
if I were so young as a werewolf rage
and twang of your green-red tongue
and sunwise; no matter for affect
aphexxing light without face
and girls of the sea
and boys of the sound
resting, newness is blue and plenty
writ of the world for day
and rage, opening indie
pseudo confusions of listening
imperilled chicago
What nobody has is time
or velvet, less of you
is always the bulb of next year’s
failing spring
and how did the system get so notorious
coming everywhere glowing like solar
panels in squares of gardens
making this civic
bliss of the window, fifties
kiss-catching my way into the country again
how did it get this mild
cradling the absent children as lambs
the way we did then
sweet green midnight
je suis shepherdess
a ridiculous landscape
clatters upon the stereo, two hours ago
hold out for multiple eclipses, active now
man you taste like whisky I love you
better in nuclear energy
a plantain reply
it doesn’t matter which outlook you use
the tax is similar
season three was a language parasol
being small again eating polos off your toes
I’ll be in that bed forever
better apple of revolutionary england
did not occur
let milk shake
I hate to say all general evie
and everything made for you
everything hurts
A big star fell on your pillow again
traded the oolong for tooth
this is february fifth forever and ever
do you want to come under the duvet again
as if it was made of straws
do you want to come over
threading first storm of loss
the adequate tapestry
Mostly recyclables, hold out the phone
as saul does a melt
to speak as surface
gliding nightly a rare casino snow
soldering palms for oil
and dairy dream of cold pastoral
drunk radiation
flays me, such nexus flesh
equivalent fern
in the kitchen
lunarium death and starving time
the driver was listening to angel of harlem
a fair blue world
a bluer fur
who would crowd now the pale critique
closing all windows
the way you fell over.

— 5/2/19

Playlist: July 2018

IMG_2559.JPG

This month first bloomed in the green-gold fairgrounds of sleepless nights, twinned in a week of pre-delirium. We stood in a packed sports bar and watched three screens simultaneously, everyone’s face a spectacle of something other that was going on beyond offsides and angles and penalties. Indulgent love of epi-bro culture. Finding that tiny jubilance inside you. Running round with the lights off, spouting catch phrases that kill and kill. I say the same name again and again, without meaning to. Am I winning.

Closing time and proximate whisky. What swills and feels wavy, later, at the top of the street. I hold ice in my gums for the numbing. 

Imagine a toothache so rich in pain it was like cradling some other entity within yourself.

So the paths seemed windier than usual and trailing my way into whatever would happen and the ascent and the lights that seemed stranger. Cradle your toothache into some kind of coda, a pause that leads to return. The portholes of naproxen, dihydrocodeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen. Appetite collapses and the mouth is a metallic pool of pain. Send one thing away to endure. Circle around, forget about yourself. Forget your body. Learn to make of my carpet a turquoise pool, our belligerent drift which quickens to pulse. I lay very still and bit my lip. Learn not to cry when people are kind, learn to accept gesture in itself. Walk in the back roads of Finnieston on some green afternoon, everything lush and wilted with rain.

So it warms again.

Salt rinses make me sad for the sea.

These train rides between cities and the way the light looks at eight of an evening in late July. The soft yellow gold of fields to be harvested, trails of meadow lines read as braille. We talk intermittently. I close my eyes to a faint remainder of presence. It is difficult to remember what’s happened, bundling into a part song of falling. Walk back along the Clyde, swallow a letdown that ricochets through all buried traits, read as you walk. Walk as you read. Chance encounters that mean things.

To be sent home early, to feel over-brimming with all this salty, incorrigible water. Cancer season comes to an end.

I say whatever weird thing pops into my head. This is the way we are now. It is light at six in the morning, we sit at the table among fag paraphernalia and sketch each other’s souls. So ever to read glitches between us in negative space. I walk home alone and the daylight tastes so beautiful and I am so dizzy from twice cheating the diurnal within the same week. When we message, we use only the choicest emojis. Wouldn’t you like a vial of mercury?

I told him I was seeing. I was seeing.

My head in my throat, forehead to forehead. Is it the sweat, the seemingly interminable beats? The club is like the cabin of a ship, sloshing with heat and bodies. I spill out in cold night. I write this looking at the rain outside, which is utterly vertical and soft, drooping the branches of trees I can’t name. The sky is a greyish egg white, clearer towards centre. It matches my mood quite perfectly. I fear it will melt.

The colours in the takeaway were ravishing, erratic. I could not take my eyes off the shreds of meat. The singular tomato.

The rain was welcome. It gushed bright cold to my skin as I peddled, the canal adjacent to my trail. Catching my breath on the hot chest feeling, which later would become a pang, a harp string pulled too taut. A minor chord that needed to settle. It takes awhile to settle into your own body, to learn its game. The rain was good, the rain was silver and dazzled the leaves. I cycled to Lock 31 and back again twice in a week. I wanted to compare each experience. The fact was a shift in my flesh, a chorus of moving blood and water.

My sweaty hair smelled of the sea. I like that the seagulls leave when it rains.

Maggie Nelson writes: ‘How many ways are there / to get saturated in another’s mind?’ & I wonder. She is writing about a canal too, but really she is writing about desire. Canals don’t flow though; canals are relatively static. Something of undercurrent draws them along?

The pale sweet scent of coconut oil and misplaced nostalgia.

The Forth & Clyde Canal is so unlike the Clyde, this great wide luminously masculine river. When the song came on and I thought of the boy who drowned. I like to look at the lights on the Clyde at night, feel quite dark in myself and proximate to history. Feel everything dimming. Feel muscular for merely being there.

But then once I saw the Clyde in the afternoon, it was buttermilk.

Maryhill becomes a sort of fairyland, the unseen space around the canal, the outcrops of houses blending into Anniesland. I stick to the line, the gravel, the pace. Trust in my breath. Clusters of teenage girls pass by on their mobiles.

Sometimes I hallucinate the phone ring of my childhood home.

Keep sleeping in and savouring escape. The trick is to get to bed before five. To keep yourself stable.

The weeks slip away like vulnerable sand flats.

I drink things that are orange and icy and strong. I try to recall that hullabaloo of pain. A wedge of it bright and red.

Drawing is a warm sweet vortex where I drag myself deep into greens and blues.

Layering long stints of techno over the same routes. It gets heavier. I walk into the headlights of cars without meaning to. They keep playing Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ in Byres Road Tesco, the inchoate vertigo of a broken decade. Later I dream the stores were empty as they were in the snow days. Water everywhere, sloshing the hours and ankles, not a drop to drink. Remember when everything caught glitches, sounded through the tinniness of a Motorola phone, those metallic wee speakers, resounded twice over on the plexiglass of a bus stop?

Everyone’s cold suburbia closes. You just shut the skylight, ignore the rain.

When you are away I sort of half live in the other place, but then already between myself.

Is it the circles below my eyes, below ugly tungsten light? The intimate work of a visceral distraction? Too many bowls of soft cereal?

Craving the expanse of the sea, releasing my cuts, wanna lose all time + memory.

Salt rinse, salt rinse; salt and cloves.

Find a note on someone’s jotter at work: get cunt fae spar. It will take a while to parse this. Fae spar get cunt, cunt spar get fae. Ye olde spar will get yae. Forget the star. 

There is a fight and a fire and over and over I write things like, gratitude, gratitude. Plug sockets sparking. 

Resist the tinny in the fridge. Do magick. I think maybe I am tired and scared of the present. The piano sounded lovely. With my window open, I could hear someone warming the keys. Notes for a genuine summer, notes for a situation. Then breathe. Bryan Ferry is sound-checking from the bandstand, you can hear the distant, phasing groan. It is almost August. 

 

*

 

Death Grips – Black Paint

03 Greedo – Jealous

Cold Cave – You & Me & Infinity

Fred Thomas – Good Times Are Gone Again

The Twilight Sad – I/m Not Here [Missing Face]

Hand Habits – Book on How to Change

Pavement – Harness Your Hopes

Mush – Luxury Animals

Black Marble – A Great Design

Sun June – Discotecque

Emily Isherwood – Calibrate

Hana Vu – Crying on the Subway

Laurel Halo – Sunlight on the Faded

RF Shannon – Jaguar Palace

Amen Dunes – Lonely Richard

Lucretia Dalt – Edge

Ride – Chrome Waves

Oneohtrix Point Never – Monody

Gang Gang Dance – Lotus

Beach House – Black Car

Womensaid – Magick!

Wooden Shjips – Eclipse

Phoebe Bridges – The Gold (Manchester Orchestra cover)

Galaxie 500 – Tugboat

Judee Sill – Lopin’ Along Thru The Cosmos

Aphex Twin – aisatsana [102]

Falling through Glass

 

3746713882_eb3e039a09
self-portrait//circa 2008

[An essay on anorexia, femininity, adolescent pain & writing the body]

I distinctly remember the first time I watched someone apply liquid liner to their eyes. We stood in the Debenhams toilets before a sheet of unavoidable mirror. She emptied her rucksack of trinkets and tools, drew out a plastic wand with a fine-tip brush and skimmed the gooey ink skilfully over her lids, making curlicues of shimmering turquoise. Her irises were a kind of violent hazel, whose flecks of green seemed to swim against the paler blue. She was very tall and for a while, very thin. She had a nickname, a boyfriend and sometimes she shoplifted; in my head, she was the essence of teenage success. Only later, in the maelstrom of a drunken night out down the beach, do I discover she’s heavily bulimic.

A year or so passes since this first incident, watching my friend slick her eyes with electric blue. I have since learned to ink my own eyes, draw long Egyptian lines that imitate that slender almond shape I long for. My makeup is cheap and smudges. I have grown thinner and people are finally starting to notice.

My mother goes quiet when we do the shopping. She tells me to move out the aisle and I ask what’s wrong. People are staringshe says. I turn around and there they are by the stacks of cereal, mother and daughter, gesturing at my legs and whispering: stick insect, skeleton. A feel a flush of hot pride, akin to the day in primary school when I got everyone to sign my arms with permanent marker—this sudden etching of possession. I am glad I lack this conspiratorial relationship with my own mother, reserving comments on others for the page instead, for my skin. My pain and frustration are communicated bodily: I slink into the shadows, sleeping early, avoiding meals. When people stare, they imbue me with a visibility I desire to erase. I should like better to float around them intangibly, diaphanous, a veil of a name they can’t catch. Instead it rests on everyone’s tongue, thick and severe: anorexic.

It took a week for all the names to fade from my arms; it takes much longer to erase a single label.

In the television series Girls, Lena Dunham’s character reveals that she got tattoos as a teenager because she was putting on weight very quickly and wanted to feel in control of her own body, making fairytale scripture of her skin. In Roald Dahl’s short story, ‘Skin’, an old man gets a famous artist to tattoo the image of a gorgeous woman on his back, the rich pigment of ink like a lustrous ‘impasto’. Years later, art dealers discover his fleshly opus and proceed to barter, literally, on the price of his skin. The story reveals the synecdochical relations between the body, the pen and the value of art. Everything is a piece of something else, skin after skin after skin. In Skins, Cassie Ainsworth gazes into the camera: I hate my thighs. With black marker, she scrawls her name onto her palm; she’s got a smile that lights up, she’s in love. Everyone around her rolls cigarettes, swaps paper skins like scraps of poetry. It feels dirty, the chiaroscuro mood of sunshine and sorrow. Her whole narrative purpose is the spilling of secrets, of human hurt turned to vapour, smoke. Wow, lovely.

For a while, my name mattered less than my skin. There were levels of weight to lose, dress sizes which signified different planes of existence. Over and over, I would listen to ‘4 st. 7lbs’ by the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards’ lyrics spat over a stomach-churning angst of guitar: ‘Self-worth scatters self-esteem’s a bore / I’ve long since moved to a higher plateau’. That summer, ten years ago now, I would walk for hours, the sun on my skin. All the fields stretched out before me like fresh pages of impossibility; my life was a mirage on the flickering sea. I thought of liquid turquoise ink, the friend in the mirror. I started to forget the details of her face, so she blurred into the impressionist portraits I wrote about in school.

Midsummer’s eve; I laid down in one of those fields. With bone-raw fingers, I counted the notches of my spine. Even in free-fall you never feel quite free.

I was obsessed with Richey’s ghost. He disappeared decades ago and they never found evidence of his body. I wanted to evaporate like that, leave my abstracted car somewhere along the motorway; step into the silence of anonymity. Richey wrote screeds of furious notes: ‘I feel like cutting the feet off a ballerina’. There it was: the dark evaporation of resentment and envy. Around this time, Bloc Party released A Weekend in the Citya record that uses Edwards’ lyric to express the racial frustration of being made Other by a racist society. I was acutely aware that the figure of a ballerina, the doll-like white girl, was a divisive source of symbolic desire. We inscribe such societal alignments on the female body, and shamefully I was more than ready to fall into place, to shed the necessary weight. But what I wanted was less the bloody violence of a crippled ballerina, and more the success of erasure.

In Zelda Fitzgerald’s only novel, Save Me the Waltz,the protagonist Alabama trains to be a ballerina late in her twenties, too late to ascend to any real career success. Here was ballet, the pre-adolescent world of waif-thin bodies and she was a mother, a woman—someone who once gave birth, who was strong in flesh. She reaches this frenzied state of beautiful prudence, honing her body to the point where every movement and thought is guided by the waltzing beat, the perfect arabesque: ‘David will bring me some chocolate ice cream and I will throw it up; it smells like a soda fountain, thrown-up, she thought’. I could attest to that. Ben and Jerry’s, swirls of it marbling the toilet bowl, clots of sweetness still clear in your throat. Fitzgerald’s sentences stream towards endless flourish. Alabama makes herself sick with the work, her desire is lustily bulimic. She gets blood poisoning, finds herself hospitalised with tubes in her body, drip-fed and cleansed by the system. I thought of how I wanted to photosynthesise, survive on nothing but air and light. Like a dancer, I was honing my new ascetic life.

Sometimes at night, the old ticker would slow to such a crawl and I thought it would stop in my sleep, sink like a stone. A girl I met on the internet sent me a red-beaded bracelet in the post and in class I’d twirl each plastic, pro-ana ruby, imagining the twist of my own bright sinew as later I’d stretch and click my bones.

I was small, I was sick. I used to write before bed, write a whole sermon’s worth of weight-loss imperatives; often I’d fall asleep mid-sentence and awake to a pool of dark ink, flowering its stain across my sheets. Nausea, of one sort or another, was more or less constant. Waves would dash against my brain, black spots clotting my vision. I moved from one plane or scale to another, reaching for another diuretic. I tried to keep within the lines, keep everything in shape.

Often, however, I thought about water, about things spilling; I drank so much and yet found myself endlessly thirsty. Esther Greenwood in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, trying to drown, being spat back out by the sea: I am I am I am.

 I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine. The familiar litany.

Something buoyed up, started showing on the surface. People could read the wrongness in the colour of my skin, all that mottled and purpling blood like a contrast dye my body had been dipped in. Against my pallid aquatic hue, I used to envy the warm and luxurious glow of other people’s skin. I sat on a friend’s lap and he freaked out at the jut of my bones. Someone lifted me and we ran down the road laughing and they were like, My god you’re so light. The sycamores were out in full bloom and I realised with a pang it would nearly be autumn. Vaguely I knew soon I would fall like all those leaves.

Anorexia is an austerity of the self. To fast is to practice a refusal, to resist the ideological urge to consume. To swap wasteful packs of pads and tampons for flakeaway skin and hypoglycaemic dreams. Unlike with capitalism, with anorexia you know where everything goes.

The anorexic is constantly calculating. Her day is a series of trades and exchanges: X amount of exercise for X amount of food; how much dinner should I spread around the plate in lieu of eating? It was never enough; nothing ever quite added up. My space-time melted into a continuous present in which I constantly longed for sleep. The past and future had no bearing on me; my increasingly androgynous body wasn’t defined by the usual feminine cycles—life was just existing. This is one of the trickiest things to fix in recovery.

Dark ecologist Timothy Morton says of longing: it’s ‘like depression that melted […] the boundary between sadness and longing is undecidable. Dark and sweet, like good chocolate’. Longing is spiritual and physical; it’s a certain surrender to the beyond, even as it opens strange cavities in the daily. The anorexic’s default existential condition is longing: a condition that is paradoxically indulgent. Longing to be thin, longing for self, dying for both. The world blurs before her eyes, objects take on that auratic sheen of desire. Later, putting myself through meal plans that involved slabs of Green & Black’s, full-fat milk and actual carbs, the dark sweet ooze of depression’s embrace gradually replaced my disordered eating. I wondered if melancholia was something you could prise off, like a skin; I saw its mise-en-abyme in every mirror, a curious, cruel infinitude.

In Aliens and Anorexia, Chris Kraus asks: ‘shouldn’t it be possible to leave the body? Is it wrong to even try?’. What do you do when food is abstracted entirely from appetite? What happens when life becomes a question of pouring yourself, gloop by gloop, into other forms? What is lost in the process?

I started a diary. I wrote with a rich black Indian ink I bought from an art supplies store. The woman at the counter ID’d me, saying she’d recently had teenagers come in to buy the stuff for home tattooing, then tried to blame her later when they all got blood poisoning. Different kinds of ink polluted our blood; I felt an odd solidarity with those kids, remembering the words others had scored on my skin for years. Tattooing yourself, perhaps, was a way of taking those names back. In any case, there was a sense that the ink was like oil, a reserve of energy I was drawing from the deep.

Recovery was trying to breathe underwater; resisting the urge of the quickening tide, striving for an island I couldn’t yet see.

(…What I miss most, maybe, is the driftwood intricacy, the beauty of the sternum in its gaunt, tripart sculpturing. Thinned to the bone, the body becomes elegiac somehow, an artefact of ebbing beauty…)

I think about beef and milk and I think about the bodies of cows and the way the light drips gold on their fields sometimes and how I’d like to curl up in some mossy grove and forget that all of this is happening. Sometimes I worry that my body is capable of making milk, making babies; its design is set up for this nourishing. Hélène Cixous insists women write ‘in white ink’ but I don’t want to be that plump and ripe, that giving. I want scarification, darkness, markings. I want Julia Kristeva’s black sun, an abyss that negates the smudge of identity.

I try to find loveliness in femininity, but my hands are full with hair barrettes, pencils, laxatives, lipstick—just so much material.

As Isabelle Meuret puts it, ‘starving in a world of plenty is a daring challenge’. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Recently, I logged onto my Facebook to find an old friend, a girl I’d known vaguely through an online recovery community, had died in hospital. Her heart just gave up in the night. People left consolatory messages on her wall; she was being written already into another existence. Another girl I used to know posts regular photos from her inpatient treatment. She’s very pretty but paper-thin, almost transparent in the flash of a camera. Tubes up her nose like she’s woven into the fabric of the institution, a flower with its sepals fading, drip-fed through stems that aren’t her own. She’s supposed to be at university. I think of Zelda Fitzgerald, of broken ballerinas. A third girl from the recovery forum covers herself in tattoos, challenging you to unlock the myriad stories of symbol. Someone I know in real life gets an orca tattoo in memory of her sea-loving grandfather; she says it helped to externalise the pain. My own body is a pool of inky potential; I cannot fathom its beginning and ending. I wish I could distil my experience into stamps of narrative, the way the tattoo-lovers did. I am always drawing on my face, only to wash the traces away. I must strive for something more permanent.

Recovery, Marya Hornbacher writes in her memoir Wasted,

comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up and there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect.
And yet you are all that you have, so you must be enough. There is no other way.

Every meal, every morsel that passes the lips, we tell ourselves: You are okay. You deserve this. Must everything be so earned? Still there is this girl underneath: the one that screams for her meagre dreams, her beautiful form; her starlight and skeletons, her sticks of celery. I try to bury her behind sheet after sheet of glass, lose her in shopfronts, the windows of cars and bathrooms; I daily crush out the bloat of her starched hyperbole, keeping the lines plain and simple. Watching others around me, I try to work out other ways of feeling full, of being free. There is an entry from 2009, scratched in a hand I barely recognise in the final page of a diary: ‘Maybe we are only the sum total of all our reflections’. I wonder what kind of sixteen-year-old wrote this, whether she is happy now and if that matters at all.