Cleaning

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.

We were cleaning up our property which was like a crossroads where you see strangers in a campgrounds. My former neighbor was walking her dog near the perimeter and I wanted to say hello, but I also wanted to not be seen, to just watch her. She was older but still had the same walk and the same hairstyle, the same glasses and smile, walking her dog as she had ten years ago. Once she passes out of my eyesight I get back to the task of cleaning. The yard has not only been untended, it’s has been an active dumpsite of domestic waste.  Drugs and kitchen utensils are the first targets and we are making progress, but there is so much to get rid of and I am sweating now, but I’m not tired of doing it.  I’m still not sure what I’m looking for in this mess. There is an auditorium stage that appears to my far right opposite to where I was watching my neighbor walk her dog. It’s light oak and I’m drawn to it, so I walk towards it. I get closer and I see discarded odds and ends that look like I might save something. There’s a kids’ sand shovel without its bucket. My two year old might use it even though I don’t think it’s hers and when I get closer I grab that shovel, but its covered in dust and something sticky so I immediately put it back down. All of my friends and family are helping me clean up at this stage and it’s going more quickly than I can approve or disapprove of discarding, one by one, the items. So I’m a little worried that they’re just getting rid of things that I want to keep. I reach for and look at a stack of papers on the stage because they have foreign stamps and it looks like I have kept them for a long time. At first I, when I open envelopes, I see they contain letters and they’re letters my ex-husband and I wrote to one another other when I was his college student, but then I look closer. They seem to change. They’re the divorce papers and I wonder if it is all over and if this is actually my MeToo moment and I wonder what’s left for my daughter.

I drove the white van into the white compact Honda in the bright sunlight as if I were dreaming, or had known all of this before.

You were with me in the passenger seat and I knew, as you did, that you were impervious to automobile accidents, perhaps because you were already dead, but so was I, I just didn’t know it yet. We were breaking up, which felt more difficult than dying. I felt as though I were trying to convince you to stay close by until I actually died, it would be soon.

The streets were so beautiful that day, sunny and treelined with red bricks and houses nestled together. They had been there for a long time and one could tell because the landscaping was lush and mature. Perhaps there was something about the proportions and the scale of houses to houses and houses to streets and pathways that suggested it had not been built for automobiles, although there was no particular problem accommodating them now.  There is something about the sun in my eyes that changes the state of things, from waking to sleep or from life to death.

The officers came to pull me out of the car. I felt as though I would be fine to walk, although my legs felt weak and I knew that even if I could walk it did not signify living or dying. You were already out of the car, organizing things. The white Honda that had driven towards and into the front of my white van was apparently driven by someone who was already dead. The officer said there was a dead man in the car, but that he had already died before the accident, implying perhaps that his being dead was the cause of the accident.

I heard many birds, the way I like to, and I waited for what came next.

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.

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.