There is a door to another world, ready to slam shut against this one; a weapon to strike against foes in this one; a secret criminal, trespasser, spy––smuggling ancient maps, nourishment, and provocation.
There is a tower, a lighthouse, a boat.
There is a jealous hymn over still waters, ready to bite; a scheming deceiver, and all of it is true.
The challenge of Mondays is that so much that seems possible when a body is freed from certain daily obligations––traffic, work schedules, emails, meetings, bells––suddenly seems to slip away. It’s a tragic feeling, one I routinely brace for every Sunday afternoon into evening.
I am constantly having to remind myself (every Monday, and for the rest of the week) that the other part of the challenge is to find a way to grasp those ephemeral beauties again and hold them close––even while running in worn shoes, unlaced, in the cold rain, on a sore knee with a sense that it will be some time before you can stop again.
To hold and keep holding, this is the challenge. Like it’s your life, as the saying goes. Because, of course, that is exactly what it is. And although it has a way of coming into such sharp focus on Mondays, it’s really the challenge of a lifetime.
The ladder, she tells us, is neither immobile nor empty. Its climbers are secret; they have different voices. A common thread is this mysterious affinity. It has to do with their music and to find it they had to ascend downward, into the earth or the sea. Neither is easy. What matters is to learn from the dead.
Writing, she explains, is learning to die. If you listen, the dead man will give you the end of the world, and you can’t write anything until you start with losing a world.
The above are notes while re-reading the opening section of Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (“The School of the Dead”), a beloved classic by Hélène Cixous.
There is a possibility, when planning a scene, of doing nothing. Of taking time, as the saying goes. Besides, something always happens anyway because with nothing to do, it’s all breath and questions, both of which are loaded.
With no buffer between a life and a sense of scale and scope, every exchange is weighted, too. There you are, lover. I see you, strange stranger. Strip it down enough, and you are left with a fierce poetic sensibility.
With space enough for reflection, everything is linked: death, the living, and the tension of seeming opposites. With so many unknowns, held at the boiling point, you get a very specific ambiguity, and if there was a point you were meaning to make about the nature of communication between us, perhaps it is only this.
Yes, it has always been this complicated.
Inspired by (and with borrowed phrases from) this article by Sarah Cameron Sunde on the plays of Jon Fosse.
When you are small, she said, you can move around and between what the big ones cannot. You will never carry much you call your own and can be easily lifted. Whatever comes your way will only be found, and you will not confuse it with something earned.
No hope is real comfort when you will often have to go without it. Same for inspiration, same for confidence. What you want to keep, she said, is what is left when hope and confidence and self-respect are gone. When all the rest collapses, notice: what is here, still breathing?
Accept its life and protect its breath. It is not distinct from your own, only infinitely more vast.
Preserving history against war.
While in hiding, the artist made canvasses of bed linens and clothing. On these, she penned poem prayers. Trying to escape from war, she said, is like trying to protect yourself with paper against tanks.
Her subject had been landscape. Now the landscape is war. You live moment to moment long enough, one risk is losing memory. Whose right is memory? There are monumental works in ornate halls to glorify the history of war––and then there are these small sketches on paper and textiles, the cries of those living under the impact.
She prayed for strength and remembrance. That her soul would not be poisoned by pain, yet retain enough rage to keep fighting for the right to a history.
As soon as your skin is totally hardened, she says, it becomes easy to break. I am trying to learn from the flower, she says, on how these get trampled by the boots and stand again.
Inspired by the works of Ukranian artists Olia Fedorova and Dana Kavelina, who were recently interviewed by Monika Fabijanska.
Artistic practice as an act of devotion.
Here is a riddle, one said.
And who do you think you are? asked another.
Only a servant. He was making films. The answer is unimportant.
Why ask, then?
There is a code in here somewhere. It is the mystery.
The usual ones: possibilities of transcendence, rebirth, levels of existence. The role of ritual practice.
Such as this one. Right now, I am filming a liturgical text. Contemplating the sacred frame by frame, but I am just beginning. He had been at it three decades.
Are you praying, then?
I call it excavation. I am a social worker with a background in archaeology.
The idea is to resuscitate the present. This is my devotion.
Inspired by an interview I read this morning, in BOMB magazine, with the filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak.
Between dreaming and waking.
The original void, they called it, and we thought like a womb and imagined ourselves a sort of placenta but who can say. We might have been the baby or the amniotic fluid, because where in that space do you find enough context for measurement?
What grows here cannot happen outside of time, they said, and we had no reason to argue; besides, who would listen? We couldn’t even name ourselves beyond we, beyond here, beyond you, and we used these interchangeably, depending on what fit the mood. Our words were the music we held between us.
All movement begins here, they said, and we had only known ourselves to be ever floating with it, in this space that only exists because it is empty enough to hold whatever comes. One evolving over time might decide to call the growth a contract between years and intentions, and who can fault them for this? It’s easy to forget this space, where the names of what we are keep sliding between us.
Reunions of the lost and found.
There go the keys again, and next will be the rings. The cattle dog has run off with the chihuahua mix, and Chance is gone from the community park. Black with brown spots, wearing a tan hoodie.
Someone lost a leaf blower. Perhaps this will catch on. And always, so many cats. Perhaps they meet up somewhere.
Meanwhile, someone found a box of tools on the side of Murphy Canyon Road, near the Arco and the Taco Bell. They want to give them back. They are hoping for a chance. Please call, they say.
Reading these ads never fails to satisfy a hunch that we are always losing parts of ourselves and finding odd bits of one another. The ads are specific, but the losses are diffuse, these invisible hopes our constant companions: return to me.
Who can help but want to audition now and then for the role of the one who returns, bearing gifts? To the weary disbelievers long after they’ve stopped looking, to announce, here! Take this! To share how they’ve been traveling the whole time, on a journey too bizarre to explain, with monsters no one’s ever seen, fanged whirlpools, and captivity on uncharted islands. To finally announce that what looked like death was only the winding course of another of the living, lost, and it can take so much longer than anyone would believe, to get back home.
She said, child, sometimes someone will approach you on the pretense of bearing a gift, but it will be none other than another version of Death, that old shapeshifter, dressed up in fancy wrapping and a bow.
This happens all the time, she said, and the method is to stuff the box full of sequins so that its these shiny, tiny nothings that fall to the floor when you open it. They are there to distract you from the extraction of your blood, one slow drop at a time.
She said, wait. It is also true that sometimes you will be handed something that reminds you of endings and you will groan and weep and mourn and wish somebody would take it back and tell you it never happened. But hang on, she said, because sometimes those are the places where your life is hiding, buried in the muck they tried to tell you was separate from the living.