You Be Me

I will practice replacing girls with other girls. With moving them into the background. All of them, so there is nothing to be distinguished between a landscape and a swath of hair. The hills around my house and the back of an animal.

A puppet theater in the bathtub: two twins moving back and forth between personalities with a simple incantation “you be me.” And then to switch, “ok, now you be me.” Mimicking each others speech and manner. Telling one another’s story. Becoming one another like jumping rope double dutch style.

Just the body sitting in for another body, learning to speak the language.

“We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us. ”

 

Invisibility is a feature of the marginalized.

Visibility is marked by familiarity. We want to give up whatever attends the elusiveness of the unseen.

To draw out what is in common and to make concrete, a monument for those ways. To become visible.

The nature of background, in many cases, is to be invisible. It still must be apprehended, left to the mysterious and yet solved, as it were, by a more proper sense. A sense that once atrophied must be rehabilitated, cultivated, because it is not vision that finds the invisible.

When you sense what is invisible, or what is different than you sensed before, a different kind of substance, it may be considered an illness. Like deafness or blindness, a diminution of certain senses that allows others, now enhanced, to come to the forefront. This newly sensible is between the other stuff. Between the people and the words and the chairs.  It is what lets double dutch jumpers know the moment to jump into the swinging ropes, it is not only where the ropes are but where they aren’t and this is never static. So what is it they are waiting for? What are they accustoming themselves to as they rock back and forth judging the moment. Sensing the moment.

Falling in love. Sensing the movement of space and substance and accommodating oneself to that rhythm, first inside feeling that particular fullness and lacking that is that other person. It is a rhythm that you must match before you can jump in. It feels good to be home in that way, to find a movement that is yours, even if it looks different than you thought it might.

I started seeing things differently. Only the word seeing no longer seems like the correct word. I have heard people talk about the spaces in between things. The illusory spaces and the idea that even in what we think of as discrete bodies there is more space than substance. In this way people can imagine the physicality of interconnectedness, as well of course as disconnectedness. I’m afraid once I invoke the language of the space-in-between, it concedes too much to the concept that there is in-between, somehow as primary, or in-fact.

I watch the girls playing double dutch. Two swing the ropes, connected not through ropes but through rhythm. And the one girl readying to jump in. She rocks back and forth, one might say waiting for her moment. She is not waiting. She is preparing. She is becoming part of the rhythm, taking on some part of the motion and adding her own.

I see now the rhythms that are entered into. The ones that match our own, so we can most easily move with and through them. It is seeing what isn’t there. It is learning to see what is not visible, like background. Like female.

I don’t know how we made friends into enemies and I don’t know that we were a we.

We kept going to something like the same dinner party over and over again. I remembered getting to the hallway with the four black apartment doors, each with its own brass numbers. His was to the far left and hers was the third and each was similar inside, but different. His was much larger, but he didn’t know the square footage. It was open like a loft space with large industrial windows opening out onto an industrial part of the city. I was nervous being there every time, because every time was the same first time and I did not feel quite welcome and even if we were in his apartment there was the uneasiness about hers next door, or was it the reverse of that?

I carried my red jacket, the cream-colored striped lining was torn, but then there seemed to be two identical jackets and I wondered if I had stolen someone else’s from the dinner party, or if one had peeled into two, as if by replication. I looked more closely and one appeared to be slightly darker in color and after inspecting the labels I saw that one was marked with the size “s” for small and the other with “xm” for an extra-medium. I decided they were both mine and kept them, although I kept them folded together so no one would notice there were two.

Everytime we sat to eat we would discuss things, but over time we became more like enemies through this process. I excused myself from the table.

Light

DREAMLIFE: A collection of women’s dreams, recorded and then translated here as part of the Female Background metabolism. A way in, a way out.

 

I gave birth to a son, small like a baby. He began to gesture to me in signs and a verbal language of his own and I slowly came to suspect that he was keeping something from me, this newborn with language. And filled with love I looked at him and asked, albeit cautiously: “You can speak?” He nodded and told me, using English words, as if his previous communications were only to dissemble the miraculous truth: he had been born fully conscious. As this became more clear, he grew into a brown-haired, blue-eyed boy and just as quickly into a man all before he could nurse or be held like the newborn he was. In virtue of this other-worldly transformation, this miraculous incarnation, I asked him about his care. Did a grown man who was newly born nurse from his mother? Indeed. He saddened as he explained that this miracle could turn dark, there could be a reversion to some undone state and breast milk was a feature of resistance to the curse.

This feels like remembering.

I tried to focus on images and processes that persist for me over time, treating them almost as if they were clues. They are combined and arranged not necessarily to give them a story or to bring them to light, but to let them appear in the darker peripheries more natural to them. Not unlike a naturalist trying to make observations in an undisturbed setting, but in this case, understanding the setting to consist in disturbance, in being affected.

These are my notes. While the usual methodology requires that they be edited, arranged, and selectively emphasized or discarded – brought into clarity through artifice and craft, these notes, being fragile, wouldn’t survive that kind of translation.

It is tempting to begin with the setting.

I wonder how often that actually happens in writing. What that means cognitively. As if we have always recognized orientation to space as foundational to meaning, as the necessary underpinning to whatever may come. And is come the correct word, or issue? I suppose to be precise one must indicate whether it is a coming from or a coming to, and yet what of coming next? All of these seem quietly significant. They are background – notions that mostly go easily along without being considered, but belie all sorts of allegiances, perhaps better left unexamined if one chooses an “active” life, in the parlance of the underground. But what of the background life? Shouldn’t one know what it means if they love the novel that sets the scene? Or if one’s first impulse upon sitting to write and describing that he is in NY, at a blackened table, cold to the touch. A wobbling teacup that is not actually a teacup but holds tea and matches the clay-slab-books some wrapped in paper and pine tar. Why does this orientation preface consideration of what belongs in a sealed box? Not only what belongs there, but treats the question as if there are correct answers. Not to say that there are not infinite answers, but a specific infinite, one that is less than the alternative infinite which would include anything that fits in the box. It is important to consider the world that defines the box-content this way. It is not unlike consideration of the cat as alive or dead. And it is the consideration of background- any number of things could be, but not anything. The content of the box is undeniably different if the box is opened or unopened. In a simple analysis, it is either known or unknown. The quality of that difference is more important than the technical attributes. If books are solid, there is no inside or it is all inside, and if a box is full, but you must destroy it to discover the contents, what is gained and what is lost? There is undoubtedly another box inside the box, only it probably doesn’t look like a box and so one might assume he is finished with opening things. There is something to the impenetrability of solid books. Something to the undifferentiated solid space. Something to the homogeneity of all the books. Is that more accurate than a sealed box? There is only theory in sealed boxes. I suspect it require more than opening the box to transform the theoretical, although I can’t say I know what that requirement is.

 

If you never see these things again, there will be a part of you, something real, that will be gone, despite the extraordinary insignificance of these things. They are spaces in memory and meaning that can only be filled by their unique shapes and mass. In sealing them up, knowing they may so easily be disregarded, discarded, it proves difficult. I have committed to them for so long and now I am committing to their absence. It is an absence, that as with memory, once it is gone, it is gone forever. These are mummy boxes because they are packed for a true death. I won’t remember them, and I won’t ever feel the things they conjure outside without being reminded by their presence. In this way, the absence is more pronounced. I am preparing to forget.

They were both born in 1977.

One was not an animal-birth but an artist-birth and unlike her first birth, this one, in 1977 was in East Orange, New Jersey not far from Belleville where the animal-birth was taking place, close to family in East Orange and Newark. In the summer of 1977 Beverly Buchanan exhibited Frustula sculptures; she committed to this artist-life, ending what had come before. Much later the small animal born in Belleville would receive money in the name of Ana Mendieta. In 1977 Mendieta described the works of a group of women-artists, thereby casting a spell on the young animal, incubated nearby, these works were “point[ing] not necessarily to the injustice or incapacity of a society that has not been willing to include us, but more towards a personal will to continue being ‘other.’”

The spell would materialize in the Female Background works, the midwifery of Mendieta this time in the guise of her memorial funds. Buchanan had secrets that she did not keep. She marked a place once with a pile of rocks, an ad hoc monument in an industrial area that had only recently hired black people. She told Park McArthur that she made a little pile but that she didn’t put a sign. Did then she put the sign, when she told Park? Did Park put the sign? She once put a sculpture in a river. She told people she did so. I don’t know if it is a secret then, if it has the quality of invisibility anymore. I don’t know if you have to let other people always tell your secrets, it would be too indecent to tell them yourself. If you were to hide something, forever, only to tell someone about it, does it then matter if you ever hid it at all? Or maybe it is not the invisibility that ever mattered after all. Maybe going around hiding things and making things that no one sees is not enough, but telling people is too indecent, so instead, Beverly whispers about acts and in that whisper, no matter how soft, the act no longer exists, it is only an idea. And an idea is nothing if not visible. It is nothing if not not-‘other’. It’s function is communicability. An idea is pulled from the riverbed of endless possibilities and just in this way Beverly pulled her sculpture from the riverbed when she turned it into an idea. She didn’t want to do it, I’m sure. Perhaps culpability lies in fact with the first person who betrayed her secret, relieving her of all bad conscience . A critic worries about the “discrepancy between the [work’s] sociopolitical “affinity” and its formalist predilections: Despite Medieta’s avowal of otherness, most of the work here extols the phenomenological the lyrical …“ These Female Background pieces, these Fineries, their secrets were never betrayed, they lay in the Background refusing to “announce themselves as subject or object” adhering instead to a “nuanced complexity of form, in which intensely subjective histories grounded in the politically-informed worldview of the artist are manifest through minimal or abstract techniques.” Beverly Buchanan sacrificed her secrets so the Finery could be invisible. So that when Female Background makes small, papier mache boxes with secrets inside, someone would destroy that mummy to find reveal them. The secrets can’t be told, they only exist as secrets. The transition from potential to actual would be a real one should one open the sealed box and that alchemy, that transmogrification guards against the revelation of the original secret. Perhaps just knowing there is a secret is having revealed too much, but ‘otherness’ is by nature a secret, and one that resists translation with its life. If someone were to look straight at Female Background, it would cease to be background.