Travel Guide

With Hélène Cixous.

To enter the regions where music is the official language, check all baggage. To what destination? It doesn’t matter. It isn’t yours. The bags will not be coming. 

To be invited, sleep. When you discover that your hands are deep in the mane of the creature that carries you, do not attack with sharp probes of interpretation. Do not attempt to extract some abstract essence from its living flesh.

Where is the ladder? You will not find it looking up. It only descends.

***

Notes while reading Hélène Cixous: “The School of Dreams” in Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing.

Inheritance

In the land of time and space.

There are those who are so much time, who live primarily by movements through and in and around space. Then there are those who are full of space, whose movements are through and in and around time. Each group has a special way of ordering and knowing the fluctuations of the other. Each is friend, antagonist, and carrier to the other. In their constantly shifting dynamic, these groups are inseparable. 

Watch the tree. She marks time in her rings and by the turn and fall of her leaves. The fruits of her body are eaten and carried, stored, and adopted by those who move into and around and through her. They know themselves by these movements and she knows herself by holding them. Notice the wind, whose very being is movement, singing his force through her branches, stretching her sway to his song.

We, the children of Time and Space, are the natural carriers of both traits, and the flux between them plays out within and between us. Now we are winds, now trees; here like a bird, here like the whale, here like the ocean floor, the bed of the lake, where the embryonic futures of our spaces settle until hatching from the cells that hold them still before the swimming.

Encounter

A meeting with the art.

There is the event, what occurs after, and what will be remembered; what is in the frame and what beyond it, who stands beholding, and what presents itself, as composition.  The artist tries presenting Time as concrete. For example, here’s a calendar and it can repeat endlessly without naming the century. Following these questions out, and out, and out, she creates a dizzying array of images, depicting a history. The effect is a sense of overwhelm, a sense of being tiny by comparison, crushed by the scope and depth of it all. Some will retreat immediately. For those that remain, there are other effects to come, and one of these is a certain euphoria of spirit, suddenly released from certain presumptions about its individual weight.

***

Inspired by the work of Hanne Darboven.

Updraft

Passenger notes at dawn.

An atmospheric river pours dreams through the night, drenching our words and pooling at our feet. One takes us in its boat, drops us, picks us up again, evades us in its thrall and escapes upon waking. We spend so much of each ride asking how it will end, and will it? And what if it won’t? Until we end up beginning again.

When the end escapes us, where are we? Climbing through spirals of remembrance, children at a playground, one and another occasionally stuck, fallen, left out, carried away. The arrangement shifts constantly, like mountain weather.

From here, we cut swaths of sky for new wings. Once lifted, we rain intentions into our shadows, raising the tides against the impact of the next one to drop from these clouds.

The Making of History

With Hanne Darboven.

You could start by listing major events, key figures, compare best-of lists across the decades. But this has been done enough. What would happen if you omitted accepted distinctions between important and trivial, if you omitted the idea of progress itself?

You could try writing without an alphabet, using only numbers. These are democratic, unfettered by the weight of the ideologies of domination. With numbers, you can celebrate a belief in permutations.

Try it like this: fill room after room floor to ceiling with tiny panels: postcards, city views, tourist sites, greeting cards, illustrations from children’s books, photographs of artworks, of artists, of unnamed people. Present constellations of images instead of a neat line.

There will be no way to summarize what it is. What will matter about it will have to do with what happens between the images you present.

What happens?

Something breathes. It isn’t progress.

***

Inspired by Hanne Darboven’s “Kulturegeschichte 1880–1983” (“Cultural History 1880–1983”).

After the Words Ran Off

The rewilding of language and hearing.

After the long racket, there was a time when the words loosed their ties and harnesses, freed their necks from collars, and jumped the fences one by one in an unrelenting tide, away from us. 

Once freed, they made their own music and removed the delicate garments we had been dressing them in. Once feral, they refused our concerted efforts at domestication. They would think and move for themselves and no longer in our tight throats. They were done with our agendas, our probing scrutiny, the various tinctures we administered at prescribed times, and especially the bells.

We spent our frustrations banging against the broken fences and ringing the redundant bells, and then grew silent with a sense of everything to say and no way to do it. In this time, we became aware that the next occasion for speech would announce itself only by the rising hairs at the backs of our necks, and this was the beginning of our listening. 

Flower-Headed Children

Swimming through the ruins.

She told us that we wouldn’t be arriving anywhere until we stopped marking time. Okay, we said, but when? Laughing, she grew. The more porous she became, the more easily we could swim through the spaces she filled.

When the land came apart, we carried the rubble in truck beds. We had to pile it somewhere. The pile became an altar.

To what? Becoming, we hoped. Something we couldn’t see. It was made of our lost parts, broken bits, and the way that we could be each other’s angels, showing up at our ruins. We slept sometimes among the rubble. No one noticed.

She loved a good play. Among actors, she told us, they call an entrance the time needed for one character to join the others on stage. But what about you? We wondered, swimming back and forth through the holes she made for us. She laughed again, and we spewed from her pores, back into one another and the wreck.

***

The title comes from an exhibit by Jaishri Abichandani.

Meeting in the Mist

The art of looking.

Each body has its signature, each a mystery. I know only awe for these, and nothing else of faith. Expect no unveilings here, no grand revelations. Only the presence of someone with nothing of importance to say, breathing between bouts of getting lost. Are you looking for something? Me too. I am trying to remember what.

In answer to your question. About art. No, I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is a means of survival. I hear there are other ways. Maybe if I spent less time in the folds of this fog and more among the purveyors of proven practices and ten-step solutions, I would be able to tell you what these are.

Instead, here I am, without even an explanation for this body’s central sacrament, which is listening to a cloud. All I can offer is this ritual: wait, wander, listen, repeat––and this open hand.

***

Notes while reading the opening to Carl Phillips’ My Trade is Mystery. What a beautiful gift.

To Carry You

With LJ Roberts.

Your grandmother showed you to knit. She learned from the mothers who fled the wars. You stopped and kept living until you got to where words were no longer enough. You found fabric again and made poetry.

You knit your beloveds into your world, an ever-expanding family. You knit the foreground with the background and layered the threads of one body among those of the next. Then the sky, the earth, a hand, a bench. You showed us all webbed together.

It’s one way, you said, to transcend human forms––or rather, our limitations in seeing what they might be. Here is a box of light, you say. And here is a space for the others.

I want to carry, you tell them––you with me.

***

Inspired by the work of of LJ Roberts.

Lessons in Looking

The shape of a vessel.

There are worse things than realizing your inward destitution, she said. Such as not knowing it. Take a good look at your own insignificance, she said. In the center you’ll see a tiny seed. And what is that, but the beginning of joy? 

It’s too bad you are utterly useless, she said. But if you sit a minute with the horror of this, you might just find a rich kind of peace. I mean, at least now you know it, and can move onto the real stuff.

Nobody expects the soul’s poverty to be its only fortune, she told us, but there it is anyway, and only by understanding this utter emptiness can anybody begin to hold anything worthwhile.