Playlist: July 2021

Have you followed me closely through the long four years of being caught into list like thistles do make this white stuff, fluffy July of it, caught pale against purple and green indelible sunsets. I appreciate all kinds of writing and sometimes a product has a good line like, rain and dark gold the podium and ringtone, we’ve got to get ready, there are some stones that remain. For memory and in VHS.

*

Something happened which I could not write about, and it was scary. Summer is smoky, you see it all around and when you don’t you know it’s still there, if you know what I mean, everywhere you look and don’t see it you know. The smoke grows lilac from the country song and it’s a new one, drawn from the old one, Waxahatchee is also known as Katie and I like how sobriety opens a songwriting and settles. Not that a loss does settle. This is a week and more soberly in the poem, reflecting the dust bits, it’s not clarity it’s cornflake crushed beneath foot. Tonight is my exhibition and a stupid person cutting the lawn, I try to look outside. The curtains are just gauze and Mau texts to say there’s something funny about ‘gossamer sounds / on the porch’ as a line and we agree all spiderwebs are kinky because ‘entrapment / constraint or binding’, and spiders eating their mates and like, how this conversation occurs mint green on lilac as in nature, bad NYC illustration, having whatsapped the last chalice or lapped from, critical, I owe you a whole month of blog there’s a backlog, the real foxes coming around the lot. Joey says a blog is useful if it has a playlist, music is useful. I’ve been reading his pamphlet again, let’s do it, which he wrote for / dedicated to our reading group, and thinking about poetry and collectivity and action. And what you can do on the face of loss. An old woman chides the speaker to not plant vegetables on private land and the speaker replies by ruminating on the conditions necessary for flourishing, I love this line ‘some people think its cool to have / shit / like a forest what the fuck but it doesn’t stop’. I am reading this poem for its labour and dreaming in a flat it’s not mine, for its fight and for what it makes me want to do, this it which is like the it of a pop song, more of a doing and pronoun, Ily, who do you think we are? What do foxes think about music? I hear a gate creak outside as I write this and imagine on the bare patch of grass where the bins are the block became meadowed and fred gets targeted ads for hydrangeas, having told the story of the hydrangea wars one time too many and I also want my targeted ads, if I must have them, to sell me wildflower seeds and the bulbs of potential vegetables. I bought an album and it had two flower bulbs and a cassette tape included, everything wrapped in beautiful tissue paper. Hungover I am thinking about that and about Joey’s writing on the pale yellow paper you sensed was artfully stolen. There are lots of important thoughts in this pamphlet like ‘it’s dreamy to dream when the real & necessary work / is ugly like steps clogged & knotty with nauseous / exhaustion’ and what does it mean to say something is dreamy, I wish I could ask Bernadette and get her poem for an answer like an answer machine where the words are crackled but everything you need to know is in the tone of the voice and the space between sound and how there is a breeze through the line, a wise one. Or just like, the 3 second double space between songs on a playlist where you turn to the other and know. Time pass. Calcined eclipsed as if I scrolled mortality site with its many many awful ads about products for tooth decay and viagra and thinking is this the absolute dramatisation of death on the internet, can we not have something clean, a kind of writing. After our phone call all my targeted ads are for lingerie no person would wear, it makes me alien to say so? Someone tells me that the databases are inordinately complex and there’s nothing a layperson could do to pull out that code and so you have to trust the abyssopelagic practice of software developers. The speaker wants to find things in the gaps and ‘that’s something’ like when knowing your neighbours, I smile at my neighbours say hi, my old neighbours were good we swapped books and furniture and talked about work and what we were reading, one of them was always reading long, historical muscular novels but he also loved Lispector like me. One of them a ceramicist’s apprentice. What of a poem encased in clay, all the animals of this room are poems, more than we could know, as I swallowed the memory of their crumble and form. This pamphlet of Joey’s is always worrying about what poems are and can do even as it stays true to the ethic of let’s do it, we keep pushing even as we question what it is we are doing; I like this, it’s what I want to call ongoingness. It’s poetry that makes me hungry a kind of lush hunger like the dew upon new gardens and sparkling water that is also natural, holding glass to the light and clink and chime, we share a bottle, we share blossom, ‘i only want to read with friends / in the actual field of experience / in the garden of ourselves / exactly not edenic since we built it / in the future’ I want to epigraph, keep this close, eternal bindweed in the garden of ourselves and something to build in the future, let’s do it, like kick off your trainers into the sun, it’s so funny but I’m crying and sneezing. Ever since I moved I keep Gloria’s poem, ‘dig it some no place’, ‘a real-time no-time edited response to Bernadette Mayer(BM)’s “Utopia”’, as a printout by my bedside. I got this from a Zarf launch G. read at back in 2019 at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I remember wanting to live in this poem in a way that rarely happens, I wanted to understand its address and who was living in it, what was happening. It was a year of climate strikes and the fucked election. I didn’t see any butterflies for a whole year. Joey’s poems make me long for the good things we learned in lockdown and also to be with friends and doing ‘preparatory work’ which might mean learning to cook for ten people or just learning to hold space, be present, show face ‘& we hold it far away’, this garden we built and are building. What can this plant do. How do you like your tea. For a while it is a Zoom garden. The roadside wildflowers are great this year, tall and showy purples and yellows. I ride the wave of heat and instantly miss it to wake up shivering at unsent texts in my dreams; in the middle of being held or not held by you. I learn this Irish phrase about it being so hot the ground’s cracking open or it’s hot enough to split rocks, I don’t remember, and once or twice this has actually happened in the saying of the phrase. Kirsty works in a glasshouse library by a motorway. ‘back in june / when it felt like everything / was cracking open’ and the ‘visceral’ like how I read this poem in February along the canal, like how I walked with it and wanted to do something like punch thru glass or send an email, but mostly I wrote instead and to hover where that scream was, placeholder, what was inside the rock of the day, how I gave it to the air of the field in Lambhill, how I miss those walks. ‘Theories are ok, but what patterns of movements will we trace through the streets as we go about our lives, who will we pass there, and how will we pass them?’ Joey asks in let’s do it. Someone asks me the time and someone asks for directions and someone is asking can I stash my booze in your pannier bags to my friend. I watch the police call children away from the fountain and I sip water and cycle home. Sometimes like the speaker, Joey’s speaker, ‘I’m dissociating from the city’ and I don’t know anything about it, who built this, how am I gonna do a wash or refresh these conditions, how am I gonna drink coffee on a Friday morning and wake up to the songs that I want, how am I gonna tell or not tell you. Nothing anyone can say and being scattered, needing encouragement, our friends are elsewhere, we hold each other through words because it is the flowers we have, gifted or put there, not to wilt, speculative to put anything in the soil and see if it grows the way I write a paragraph on discord, that’s something. Heart fires tripled and inboxed. Joey’s poetry teaches me to go beyond realism but not be complacent about something in the present as if that was enough, the eruption itself as utopic. I’m excited about what happens next once we begin changing, as if by the inward and outward transformation we would get to the place, hug emoji, to speak on the radio against enclosure and the ‘no place’ of Gloria’s poem maybe where you ‘Leave page […] to begin this’, and what Joey says: ‘If this place is so radically unrecognisable that to get there we would lose ourselves, then perhaps this imaginative effort is the beginning of a willing self-transformation, which we might hold onto in the midst of all we do in the hope of its eventual collective completion’. I imagine my face in the mirrors of dust shop windows, becoming something else when you say in the dream We shouldn’t… There is nothing left to buy but time. I am still trying to write about that thing whose impossibility is the basic problem of how I can feel and look around and know you, know me, how we are here and still have breath and like food, and like mornings ahead of us still possible to hold and break fruit and run for trains, share music. I appreciate the way this work is a writing back to itself, as if to reclaim the errata and do more with the adjacent claims and forms and changes — to acknowledge that anything we write academically exists within a context, it has this limit, something weathers through it and what is afterwards done is gonna crash through the words. I wish I was cycling long and hard along the canal today, I wish I was breathless and flush. I like what Joey says of poetry’s ‘glittering / incomprehensibility’ and how it disrupts ‘capitalist (etc) subjectivity’ and how at the exhibition everybody wanted to eat the sparklehorse, Jack’s sparklehorse, like it was this giant animal-shaped sugar plum cake with hallucinatory and erotic properties if you just had a slice, a small bite, a scoop of the horse. People want to imbibe the air magic they want to transform and be more than flesh, I think that’s poetry also the wanting to tip all the glitter right down your throat and come up rosy, aura, in excess of yourself, beyond consumer. Morvern’s dream of white horses on the beach. To read this, you had to be born and you had to feel something opening, hydrated, sapped of sense. In the pamphlet one of my favourite things is the scribbles, curlicues, tumbleweed gestures drawn on some of the pages, the sight of photocopied handwriting turned asemic scrawl — this gesture of something in excess of the language, a tending of the page, a tender unknowing. That I made a mark and remarked it. It is something to long for. Whose hand do you hold when you say let’s do it, not to ask what follows but move into that shimmering space of the it, which is always in motion. I want to work harder, have stronger hands and language. 

*

One day I will be champion at hula hoop or retire from the athleticism of the long poem, the turbulent manner of a short moan, long-term loan, poems to unravel barbed wire fences, and how I had the library book but they lost the library book, found it. Everything turns up sometime. The turnips are good this year is a financial statement for racoons all around us. I want to go slow but I keep speeding up. Riverside champagne and bicycle, some of your Guinness, Pinot Grigio, Cava and fern, curl inside me a thought of the night and night club, lilac book, not yet. Ice rub, hot flush. Everything good in my room is mint green and white and nightly 

I want music to be everywhere, remembering

slenderly the first month in your new place

and all these milestones of 

the lake at twilight, Elliott Smith

you say

“can you play it for me”

I’ve been here a month, I am getting to know the roads

I’m supposed to buy furniture

I get home 

Kind of still drunk at 2am I watch that film about London, 2007, Giddy Stratospheres and it felt really lonely. I longed for more party scenes and more of the beginning running to ‘The Rat’ and you’ve got a nerve, more of a carelessness of the edge of history where you still have money or you don’t, sinking a wine and running for trains in the capital city and not falling asleep and the timeline’s messed up, how did we get there, landfill I die, the country is lonely. I love the whole boy/girl friendship and especially what it means to wait or go meet someone and the thrill of being out with them, swap hats, wrapped around each other, unconditional, laughing and wholesome and immune to other ppl. Platonic hold hands. I’m lucky to have had that. In 2007 I read NME every week and collected a sense of what was happening in London. Squat raves and indie discos and gigs that ended in broken glass and fights and the end of any sort of neoliberal consensus about to be voiced and soon. I was just walking the empty crossroads, smoking menthols. The girl Laura with the peach-orange hair is an artist and wants to claim club promotion as a kind of art, I get her, I get that she should be able to do that and contribute to the living as art, and nobody dies. Anagram of my name is ‘lame red armies’. Clubs always felt total elsewhere it seemed impossible that they really existed and now even more so, what is the fee, but I want to be in them. Who cares about satire it doesn’t care about anyone. You never see her without a hat and this is protection, wearing a beret against the world at the fierce mercy of cab drivers, “look after her yea?”. Everyone is wearing leopard print and looks good. We should be able to do this and nobody dies. Ventilation. The coloured tights and short skirts. Art school. When I cried at this film I cried for the twist, was I prepared for it, the way it screams something

against that hedonism, delusion, but they keep going on. The film isn’t sexy at all and the only sex hinted at is kind of gross, creepy or regrettable. I knew even drugged it had to be better but bad sex in films is so British. I felt the moral message was too strong. The boys in bands are more or less all annoying and druggy, sometimes endearing but mostly dumb, the long familiar ket nights of blurry talk. But the music is good and the guys are fun, it’s just acting. Besides, I miss that. To be a dumb boy in a band with the boys I alight from my slip and reach for the door, it’s always open, do you have a light. Now I go out alone if I go out at all. It’s a lonely film because something of the isolation of the pandemic overshadows it. What does it mean to care for someone? That I watched this on a sofa alone, that it was filmed in 2020 and they had to do artful camera things to simulate a bigger crowd, that we could only get one limited slice of the action. How to ask for help. I wanted bigger party scenes, more of the hedonism, rat sightings, I loved seeing people take drugs more or less constantly. I felt completely neutral, then indulgent, until I didn’t. The film confirmed my fear of bathtubs. That somehow you will never get out again. Some people feel like it’s a womb. And afterwards I was crying for the friend I lost. Everyone is wearing hats and I remember when Camden was full of hats you would go to just buy hats, and everyone looked cute and cared about clothes and music in this way that doesn’t seem possible now, wearing a bowler, there are so many ways to be serious now. What do you take from the film with you, having seen two decades compressed and the living room where you can always bounce.  

*

The Long Blondes — Giddy Stratospheres

The Walkman — The Rat

Arcade Fire — Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)

Bleachers feat. Lana Del Rey — Secret Life

Angel Olsen — Gloria

Oneohtrix Point Never, ROSALÍA — Nothing’s Special

Caroline Polachek — Bunny Is A Rider

Porches — Okay 

Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple — Love More (By Fiona Apple)

Faye Webster — I Know I’m Funny haha

Le Tigre — Hot Topic

Hole — Softer, Softest

The Sugarcubes — Birthday

Moon Duo — Sevens

St. Vincent — Sugarboy

Billie Eilish — Oxytocin

U.S. Girls — New Age Thriller

Dry Cleaning — Leafy 

Prefab Sprout — I Trawl the Megahertz 

Playlist: November 2018

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Lately I’ve been haunted by a couple of lines by James Schuyler: ‘In the sky a gray thought / ponders on three kinds of green’ (‘A Gray Thought’). I can’t work out what kinds of green he means. Funny how the trees of London still have their leaves, mostly, and how the city keeps its own climate. Sunk in a basin. Schuyler names the source of the greens: the ‘tattered heart-shapes / on a Persian shrub’, ‘pale Paris green’ of lichens, ‘growing on another time scale’, and finally ‘another green, a dark thick green / to face the winter, laid in layers on / the spruce and balsam’. A grey thought to match the greyer sky. The sky has been grey in my life for weeks, it came from Glasgow and it came from England; I saw it break slightly over the midlands, a sort of bellini sunset tinged with pain. I just wanted it to fizz and spill over. I saw my own skin bloom a sort of insomnia grey, a vaguely lunar sheen. Schuyler’s greens describe a luxury of transition, pulling back the beaded curtains of winter and finding your fingers snagged on pearls of ice.

There is a presence here, and a space for mortality that starts to unfold like the slow crescendo of a pedal, held on the upright piano of childhood, whose acoustics promise the full afternoons of a nestlike bedroom. Which is to say, everything here. Protection. Which is to say, where every dust molecule seems to glow with us, which makes us multiple. A commodious boredom that opens such worlds as otherness is made of, ageing. Annie Ernaux in The Years (2008):

During that summer of 1980, her youth seems to her an endless light-filled space whose every corner she occupies. She embraces it whole with the eyes of the present and discerns nothing specific. That this world is now behind her is a shock. This year, for the first time, she seized the terrible meaning of the phrase I have only one life.

There is this life we are supposed to be living, we are still working out the formula for. And yet the life goes on around us, propels through us. It happens all the while we exist, forgetting. It is something about a living room and the satisfying crunch of aluminium and the echo chamber of people in their twenties still playing Never Have I Ever. And the shriek and the smoke and the lights outside, reflective laughter.

The many types of grey we can hardly imagine, which exist in friction with the gild of youth. He shows me the birthday painting hung by his bedside. It is blue and green, with miasmatic tangles of black and gold, like somebody tried to draw islands in the sky with lariat shapes. I look for a roar as I walk, as though something in my ears could make the ground tremble. The air is heavy, a new thick cold that is tricky to breathe in. It requires the clever opening of lungs. I stow cigarettes from Shanghai in my purse. My Nan says she gets lost in the city centre. She gets lost in the town. She looks around and suddenly nothing is familiar. She has lived here for years and years and yet. It is the day-to-night transition of a video game, it is the virtuality of reality, inwardly filtered. She sucks industrial-strength Trebor mints and something of that scent emits many anonymous thoughts in negative. How many worlds in one life do we count behind us?

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From P. Syme’s Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours (1821)

There is something decidedly Scottish about singing the greys. A jarring or blur of opacity. We self-deprecate, make transparent the anxiety. There is the grey of concrete, breezeblock, pregnant skies delivering their stillborn rain. Grey of granite and flint, grey of mist over shore; grey of sea and urban personality. We splash green and blue against the grey, call it rural. Call it a thought. Call out of context. Lustreless hour of ash and in winter, my father lighting the fire. In London they caramelise peanuts in the crowded streets, and paint their buildings with the shiniest glass. It is all within a movie. My brother walks around, eyeing the landmarks and shopfronts fondly, saying ‘London is so…quaint’. He means London is so London. I stray from the word hyperreal because I know this pertains to what is glitz and commercial only. It does not include the entirety of suburb and district; it is not a commuter’s observation. Deliciously, it is sort of a tourist’s browsing gaze. Everything dematerialises: I get around by flipping my card, contactless, over the ticket gates. There is so much to see we forget to eat. It is not so dissimilar to hours spent out in the country, cruising the greens of scenery, looking for something and nothing in particular. Losing ourselves, or looking for that delectable point of loss. As Timothy Morton puts it, in Ecology Without Nature (2007), we ‘consume the wilderness’. I am anxious about this consuming, I want it to be deep and true, I want the dark green forest inside me. I want the hills. I’m scared of this endless infrastructure.

Some prefer a world in process. The greys reveal and conceal. The forest itself pertains to disturbance, it is another form of remaking. Here and there the fog.

In ‘A Vermont Diary’, it’s early November and Schuyler takes a walk past waterfalls, creek flats, ‘a rank harvest of sere thistles’. He notes the continuing green of the ferns in the woods, the apple trees still bearing their fruit despite winter. Our craving for forest, perhaps, is a primal craving for protection of youth, fertility, sameness. But I look for it still, life, splashed on the side of buildings. It has to exist here. I look up, and up; I j-walk through endlessly aggressive traffic. What is it to say, as T. S. Eliot’s speaker in The Waste Land (1922) does, ‘Winter kept us warm’?

Like so many others, in varying degrees, I walk through the streets in search of warmth.

Lisa Robertson, in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (2003), writes of the inflections of the corporeal city:

Architectural skin, with its varieties of ornament, was specifically inflected with the role of representing ways of daily living, gestural difference and plenitude. Superficies, whether woven, pigmented, glazed, plastered or carved, received and are formed from contingent gesture. Skins express gorgeous corporal transience. Ornament is the decoration of mortality.

So with every gorgeous idiosyncrasy, the flourish of plaster, stone or paint, we detect an age. A supplement to the yes-here fact of living. I dwell awhile in Tavistock Square and do not know what I am supposed to do. So Virginia Woolf whirled around, internally writing her novels here. There was a great blossoming of virtual narrative, and so where are those sentences now — might I look for them as auratic streams in the air, or have they regenerated as cells in leaves. There are so many sycamores to kick on the grass. There was a bomb. A monument. Thought comes over, softly, softly. I take pictures of the residue yellows, which seem to embody a sort of fortuity, sprawl of triangular pattern, for what I cannot predict. Men come in trucks to sweep these leaves, and nobody questions why. The park is a luminous geometry.

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I worry the grey into a kind of glass. The cloud is all mousseline. If we could make of the weather an appropriate luxury, the one that is wanted, the one that serves. In The Toy Catalogue (1988), Sandra Petrignani remembers the pleasure of marbles, ‘holding lots of them between your hands and listening to the music they made cracking against each other’. She also says, ‘If God exists, he is round like a marble’. The kind of perfection that begs to be spherical. I think of that line from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Daddy’ (1960): ‘Marble-heavy, a bag full of God’. So this could be the marble of a headstone but it is more likely the childhood bag full of marbles, clacking quite serenely against one another in the weight of a skirt pocket. Here I am, smoothing my memories to a sheen. I have a cousin who takes photographs of forests refracted through crystal balls. I suppose they capture a momentary world contained, the miniaturising of Earth, that human desire to clasp in your hand what is utterly beautiful and resists the ease of three-dimensional thought. How else could I recreate these trees, this breeze, the iridescent play of the August light?

I like the crystal ball effect for its implications of magicking scene. One of my favourite Schuyler poems is ‘The Crystal Lithium’ (1972), which implies faceting, narcosis, dreams. The poem begins with ‘The smell of snow’, it empties the air, its long lines make every description so good and clear you want to gulp it; but you can’t because it is scenery just happening, it is the drapery of event which occurs for its own pleasure, always slipping just out of human grasp. The pleasure is just laying out the noticing, ‘The sky empties itself to a colour, there, where yesterday’s puddle / Offers its hospitality to people-trash and nature-trash in tans and silvers’. And Schuyler has time for the miniatures, glimpses, fleeting dramas. My cousin’s crystal ball photographs are perhaps a symptom of our longing for other modes of vision. They are, in a sense, versions of miniature:

“Miniature thinking” moves the daydreaming of the imagination beyond the binary division that discriminates large from small. These two opposing realms become interconnected in a spatial dialectic that merges the mammoth with the tiny, collapsing the sharp division between these two spheres.

(Sheenagh Pietrobruno, ‘Technology and its miniature: the photograph’)

Miniaturising involves moving between spheres. How do we do this, when a sphere is by necessity self-contained, perhaps impenetrable? I think of what happens when I smash thumbs into my eyes and see all those sparkling phosphenes, and when opened again there is a temporary tunnelling of sight — making a visionary dome. Or walking through the park at night and the way the darkness is a slow unfurling, an adjustment. For a short while I am in a paperweight lined with velvet dark, where only bike lights and stars permit my vision, in pools that blur in silver and red. The feeling is not Christmassy, as such colours imply. It is more like Mary of Silence, dipping her warm-blooded finger into a lake of mercury. I look into the night, I try to get a hold on things. On you. The vastness of the forest, of the park, betrays a greater sensation that blurs the sense between zones. I cannot see faces, cannot discern. So there is an opening, so there is an inward softening. What is this signal of my chest always hurting? What might be shutting down, what is activated? I follow the trail of his smoke and try not to speak; when my phone rings it is always on silent.

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Enter the zone through the sky… Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

It becomes increasingly clear that I am looking for some sort of portal. The month continues, it can hardly contain. I think of the towns and cities that remain inside us when we speak, even the ones we leave behind. Whispering for what would take us elsewhere.

Write things like, ‘walked home with joy, chest ache, etc’.

They start selling Christmas trees in the street at last, and I love the sharp sweet scent of the needles.

There is a sense of wanting a totality of gratitude, wanting the world’s sphere which would bounce back images from glossier sides, and so fold this humble subject within such glass as could screen a century. Where I fall asleep mid-sentence, the handwriting of my diary slurs into a line, bleeds in small pools at the bottom of the page. These pools resemble the furry black bodies of spiders, whose legs have been severed. A word that could not crawl across the white. I try to write spellbooks, write endlessly of rain. Who has clipped the legs of my spiders? I am not sure if the spells I want should perform a banishing or a summoning. The flight of this month. The icy winds of other cities.

The uncertain ice of my bedroom: ‘tshirts and dresses / spiders in corners of our windows / making fun of our fear of the dark’ (Katie Dey, ‘fear pts 1 & 2’). Feeling scorned by our own arachnid thoughts, which do not fit the gendered ease of a garmented quotidian, the one we are all supposed to perform. I shrug off the dusk and try out the dark, I love the nocturnal for its solitude: its absolute lack of demand, its closed response.

In the afternoon, sorting through the month’s debris. A whole array of orange tickets, scored with ticks. The worry is that he’ll say something. The dust mites crawl up the stairs as I speak between realms. This library silence which no-one sweeps. There is the cinema eventually, present to itself. I see her in the revolving glass doors and she is a splicing of me. Facebook keeps insisting on memories. People ask, ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ Wildfires sweep across California and I want to say, Dude where are you? and for once know exactly who I am talking to. I want to work.

On the train I wanted a Tennents, I wanted fresh air and a paradox cigarette. They kept announcing atrocities on the line.

She talks in loops and loses her interest. She gives up on her pills, which gather dust in the cupboard among effervescent Vitamin C tablets and seven ripe tomatoes, still on the vine.

Every station unfurls with the logic of litany, and is said again and again. Somewhere like Coventry, Warrington. This is the slow train, the cheap train. It is not the sleep train.

In Garnethill, there is a very specific tree in blossom; utterly indifferent to the fading season. It has all these little white flowers like tokens. I remember last December, walking around here, everything adorned with ice. Fractal simplicity of reflective beauty. Draw these silver intimations around who I was. An Instagram story, a deliberate, temporary placement. Lisa Robertson on the skin of an architectural ornament: well isn’t the rime a skin as well; well isn’t it pretty, porcelain, glitter? Name yourself into the lovely, lonesome days. Cordiality matters. I did not slip and fall as I walked. One day the flowers will fall like paper, and then it will snow.

It will snow in sequins, symbols.

Our generation are beautiful and flaky. Avatars in miniature, never quite stable. Prone to fall.

Maybe there isn’t a spell to prevent that, and so I learn to love suspense. And the seasons, even as they glitch unseasonable in the screen or the skin of each other. Winter written at the brink of my fingers, just enough cold to almost touch. You cannot weave with frost, it performs its own Coleridgean ministry. Anna takes my hands and says they are cold. She is warm with her internal, Scandinavian thermos. Through winter, my skin will stay sad like the amethysts, begging for February. Every compression makes coy the flesh of a bruise; the moon retreats.

I mix a little portion of ice with the mist of my drink. It is okay to clink and collect this feeling, glass as glass, the sheen of your eyes which struggle with light. A more marmoreal thinking, a headache clearing; missing the closed loop of waitressing. Blow into nowhere a set of new bubbles, read more…, expect to lose and refrain. Smile at what’s left of my youth at the station. This too is okay. Suddenly I see nothing specific; it is all clarity for the sake of itself, and it means nothing but time.

Paint my eyes a deep viridian, wish for the murmur of Douglas firs, call a friend.

 

~

 

Katie Dey – fear pts 1 &2 (fear of the dark / fear of the light)

Oneohtrix Point Never ft. Alex G – Babylon

Grouper – Clearing

Yves Tumor, James K – Licking an Orchid

Daughters – Less Sex

Devi McCallion and Katie Dey – No One’s in Control

Robert Sotelo – Forever Land

Mount Kimbie – Carbonated

Free Love – Et Encore

Deerhunter – Death in Midsummer

Sun Kil Moon – Rock ‘n’ roll Singer

Noname – Self

Aphex Twin – Nanou2

Martyn Bennett – Wedding

Nick Drake – Milk and Honey

Songs, Ohia – Being in Love

Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done

Falling through Glass

 

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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.