Driving Rio Grande

A lime green and yellow church sits by a sprinkle of houses, all pastel coloured and tinted with dust and sun. Silence of the dunes is broken, great stretches of pasture appear.

A true gaucho – hat, belt, knife in belt, even a checkered shirt – rides along, 4 dogs following in a straight line behind him. They are all different breeds. They follow in order of size.

 

A tartaruga crosses the rode to the other lake, her green storied shell glowing luminous in the bright sun.

 

A boy runs around his lawns, dodging ceramic swans, riding a stick and whipping his rope in a gallop,

A young girl walks out of a stone off-white house, with a yellow metallic roof. A large velvety white flower pats her in the face with a soft slump, bouncing back on its long neck to laugh with its siblings. The small blonde girl steps back, disappearing slightly into the doorway, before returning with a strong punch to the offending blossom. Flying back it dodges while another leaps forward. Batted back and forth the girl fought valiantly against this tamed untamed pot plant, before relenting and running back inside, as we move along our way.

 

We are driving on the 101 from Rio Grande; where our car was popped on a boat to be towed across to São José do Norte. The fields stretch and the houses are eaten by the landscape. We are now creeping along a spit of Rio Grande do Sul, between the sea and dunes on one side, and more dunes, and the massive Lagoa dos Patos, on the other. Horses pick gently, grazing, sharing vast expanse with lumbering, kind eyed vacas. Cowww and vaa-ca. Was it something about their soft noses and huge eyes that made both languages name them onomatopoeically? In Portuguese, onomatopoeia is onomatopéia. It’s a small world after all.

 

The sunset stains the clouds deep reds and mystic purples, while the horizon glows orange. The low lights reflect on flat mirror ponds, sunk into soil, tracing the vermillion and violet linings of clouds. Why do we wish for silver when gold shines so much brighter?

A large, soft, nose, covered in short, brown, hair, nudges through the water, sending the sketches shivering. Slick, its furred brown back rises out of the water, as the capybara wades through the marshland. After the first, whole clans appear, with small children following like baby bears with moomin shaped heads. While they walk slowly, and we crawl along so as not to miss them, the sun falls fast without our attention. The horizon shrunk to a line of embers, as we slipped into dusk.

 

After we passed the boarder last night, a run to Rio Grande, to sleep, we slowed to a crawl on the 471, between Levante and Santos. A long road of dunes, between Mangueira Lagoon and Lago Merin. On the other side of Mangueira Lagoon is the sea. One side the dunes are unspoilt, gleaming almost white in the sun, while the other has scrubs, and even pines, exploding out of the dune. We come so close to large wind farms that I finally see their size, really, they even have little doors. Under the stretched blue sky, the undulating dunes, inhabited by spiky and rounded plants, look like the surface of some other planet. Here the road is uninhabited for a fast-forward of half an hour, maybe 40km of country – my pokey English distances don’t fit with this terrain.

 

Bright light nut wood sticks up in straightened posture, the walls of a house, its window looking over grazing land for a distance I can’t guess. A ladder leans on the structures side. It will have a roof before it’s done, but for now I imagine sitting in there, looking up at the great blue sky.

 

A house alone. The larger the surrounding space, between the house and any other buildings, the smaller it looks; the stronger it looks. Standing in contrast to the vastness around it, the smaller, the brighter, the more unassuming the house the greater its’ implicit strength. As, after all, it is standing, strong, without need for allies, gates, roads or tenements as company. Houses standing strong hold human outposts in the expanse of Sertão space.

.

 

A country so beautiful to make hearts stop and blood spill, still so much space to be in, visibly. So much of it inhabited by cows, however, who knows how much is free in any sense – how much is as it once was? It’s unfair to ask this of Brazil over anywhere else – in the U.K we have converted a larger percentage of our country’s freeborn nature to pastures, towns, and the like. But Brazil holds more, more beauty, more diverse flora and fauna, more land left to take, or to protect; more people continuing ways of life only possible when so close to the land they live on. It is unfair to ask more of Brazil when so many of the countries asking have long ago destroyed most of their natural beauty, and killed almost all (or all) of their indigenous people (Hello, America), but it’s the cruelty always enacted on a beauty and mystery that rises above the rest – everyone wants to claim it, maybe to remove its habitants, to make it ‘usable’ by agricultural standards, maybe just to fence it off to keep it ‘safe’. Kátia Abreu, minister for agriculture calls indigenous people ‘lazy’, and tells the world that they have no right to their land. Because they don’t work it, don’t use it up and turn it into something other. It’s hard to watch the land with this in mind, and think of it disappearing, wiped over – as the mining sludge is still wiping away massive swaths of land in Mina Gerais, maybe the biggest environmental disaster in history.

That is happening countries, by European standards, away from Rio Grande Do Sul. Though there still lies in the land the beauty that people have killed for. We keep driving, what else can you do, everyone wants to see the land, there is nothing like it. I want to walk across each plain and mountain, jump in the sea, and the waves beat in my chest. But we are driving, and yes, that hypocracy is clear to me. Because everyone wants a part of Brazil; of Sao Paulo, of Rio, of the Amazon, of Pantanal, of Rio Grande do Sul, of Florianopolis, of Para, all should be named but there are really too many, and states are still not specific enough. Like too many who have come to see, since the dawn of ‘exploration’, I also want my piece of Brazil, and I don’t want anyone else to touch it…

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Vicksburg Sweating

natchez_theroberteleearrivingatnatchez_underthehill1882_johnstobart1250x771

‘Daance with mi Jee-sus’

sang the woman jogging past. She carried herself head pushed back, perhaps thought of herself as a Southern-belle, with full make up and running gear, complete with matching visor…Jogging past she moved in swift sashays – not running, but brisker than a walk – and her pink headphones made it appear as though she were listening to the song she had just sung. But she only sung one line, quite loud, stretching in deep South drawl across the Mississippi bank, jumping a little up the hill of antebellum and abandoned homes towards the town centre. She sung it as she passed us. It felt like an alarm.

‘Outsiders’

Long day driving. From New Orleans through Natchez. Ever changing highway – stretches of billboards and burger bars fall away into rolling cattle fields and the odd trailers – bugs suicidally explode on the windshield. I see things dead on the road I’ve never seen alive. Possimagesums, skunks, raccoons, an eagle…all pulled enough across the road to be seen as a whole from the window of a car going 70mph.

We’re staying in adjacent to an antebellum home originally owned by a plantation owner – these places dot around Vicksburg and Natchez, now guesthouses and open for tours, and the state pride in these homes is – now owned by two elder southern men. We meet one of them signing in. He is unctuous, his sentiments draw out with his vowels, and, in a voice created in this slow humid heat, tells us the whys and wheres of rooms and breakfast (to be followed by a tour). He is Southern hospitality, but also kind. Nerves that changed in me around Natchez might be affecting my judgment, as I’m unnerved by his syrupy politeness.

I’m sleeping under draped, fringed, heavy, cloth, in a four-poster.

Eery
Eery

Each room has a four-poster. The rest of the room is tasteful; fitting portraits and landscapes hang by leather bound book and a dark wooden desk. The deep greens of the bed, dark wood, and deep clotted red carpet, pull in all the sun. The room is far cooler than in New Orleans. The air conditioning freezes my bones, so I turn it off.

The main street is oppressively hot. Pushing down on your shoulders as you walk past a half hearted music shop, with a couple ukuleles’, a ‘pre-loved’/thift store, a few sports bars and surf and turf places. Mainly, so empty.

‘Daa-nce with me Jee-sus’

Light, elevator, jazz tinkles along the street. I crane around for its source. Where are all the buskers? After the feast of brass and string and song that was walking around Frenchman, New Orleans, that morning, Vicksburg felt hollow. The music echoed. Recorded. Edging near the lamp post, or at least near its surrounding manicured half-meter garden, it got louder. Walking further down, past no one, past blue signs telling how old a house was, where the biggest confederates lived, who owned the most; there was one for an old concert hall. Muddy Waters had played there, and BB King.

Muddy Waters, unknown (maraccas), Otis Spann, Henry Strong, Elgin Evans, Jimmy Rogers (presumably from the early 1950s)
Muddy Waters, unknown (maraccas), Otis Spann, Henry Strong, Elgin Evans, Jimmy Rogers (presumably from the early 1950s)

The owner was pictured with several blues legends. He was a successor of his wealthy fathers estate – so far, so southern – and he had put it into the concert venue. His mother had been his father’s slave, a single tentatively put sentence whispered on the plaque. He’d made somewhere, for all that Southern blues that was picking up, in Vicksburg. The end of the plague was disappointing. He’d moved the joint to Chicago – no explanation given – and it had been across the road. Looking across the road, there is now a fat concrete car park.

It was empty.

tricorn-6-1

The chic chic chic may be the fan click, of the squeak of cicadas. My skin feels cold but they press my head in heat. The lampposts play a slow waltz. The highway signs say Welcome to the heart of Blues Country. The billboards advertise Texan-Brazilian steakhouses, car plans that’ll ‘beat your bank’, and the shifty smiling faces of estate agents and accident lawyers. It air pushes you down. Humid, dragging heat – sharp contrast to the buzzing electric warm of back where we’d come from – this weather wanted to pull you into the Mississippi with concrete boots on. Then boil you alive.

Burning. Roasting meat? Some carcinogenic, crackling, smell intermingled with the hotel lobby piano played by the virtuoso lampposts.

Daa-nce with me Jee-sus’ the woman jogged steadily behind, catching up. Turning to run, I trip on a root pulling free of the pavement. Looking back I see her eyes flash under her visor – wide, blue, sincere, charged insanity – she’s smiling. Scrambling up I run. Splintered and nacreous, vines lose strength to grip, and fall from the pillars in pieces. A white house on the corner snows paint chips over broken walls – its own, and its neighbours. A horse stencil painted in – ‘One Love’ – is the first non-sponsored graffiti I’ve seen since before Natchez.


still from Mississippi Burning
still from Mississippi Burning

Howlin’ Wolf wrote a song about the Natchez burning. ‘Did you hear about the burning…?’. It had been rattling through my head. We only stopped in Natchez under an hour. At midday, it had been unbearable to even walk a little way down to the riverbank. Standing at the rail, looking over the Mississippi, in Natchez, is a little path, next to some manicured lawn, with the river on your right. Along it are a couple of stones – two tell information about houses and their owners – then there’s a small one, a little further in from the path, but so directly in the center of the grass so as to also be a little while back from the road. Its words aren’t immediately intelligible from either side.

Walking up you read that a music hall burnt down. 250 young people died in there, all of African descent. Strangely – though the tone of the writing does not imply any of this is in the least bit suspicious – all the doors were barred, no one managed to escape, and the fire ate the place in one. The plaque is worded to give reasons to these anomalies. The power and speed of the fire is put down to the specific type of decoration used by the music halls owners, and the closed doors is also blamed on the owners, claiming that they blocked the doors after reaching capacity. There are many names on the plaque. A list of small etched names follows the explanation of the fire. Following these, are five LARGE NAMES printed underneath. These names, in pride of place, are the names of the board that commissioned this plaque. The Natchez burning. ‘Did you hear…?’ or did you let them tell you?

The Natchez 'Rhythm club fire
The Natchez ‘Rhythm club fire

Natchez was rich and white and stifling and we left, as soon as we’d established that the only edible food was Fat Mama’s Nachos.

Things changed from big and white as soon as you left town, into smaller homes, shotgun shacks as they’re called (you can shoot a shotgun through the front door and out the back), and a whole lot less money. Abandoned farming machinery and cars lie outside homemade signs advertising a car wash, or fresh produce, or liquor. .

mainly liquor.. is this a particularly a wise idea?
mainly liquor.. is this a particularly wise idea?

hen wide roads, rolling fields, churches, churches, churches, cattle and country radio. Hotter and hotter, pushing and pushing us into melting tarmac – the flutes kick in from the lampposts – Vicksburg warps. Whether it’s melting into the Mississippi, or the river is rising to drown it, is hard to tell. The banks host a host of sponsored murals. There are some leaders, some battles. Mostly everyone is white. Though, there is one in honour of the segregated school for black children – closed after desegregation in 1971. An empty thud as that date smacks me in the skull, letting it rattle, and Vicksburg’s eerie, smiling daggers, burning, burning meats and coal, abandoned buildings, haunting streets, lifeless left over town feel closes in tighter. ‘Daa-nce with me Je-sus’.

We passed three churches in a row getting here.

‘Did you hear..?’.

Delta Iron Works
Delta Iron Works

Cold as ice, fan clic clic clicking above, sweating brow, I awake under the canopy of the dark green, baby pink, four-poster. Feeling sick in my mouth – the grease of everything so far consumed is catching up to me. Last night I ate a crab slicked in oil, fried. We’re leaving Vicksburg this morning. We thought we were leaving now. I never unpacked.

But no, now we have to stay for the fucking tour.

Confederacy nostalgia; only works for the white and rich
Confederacy nostalgia; only works for the white and rich and Southern

Walking in another’s Virtual Shoes – Can Gaming increase Understanding and Empathy?

Originally written for Just Gushing

Gaming has gone through its years of being feared. Like records, cinema, T.V, arcade games, gin and most good things. However, more recently, researchers are finding that video games can increase feelings of empathy. At Innsbruck University 4 years ago, psychologist Tobias Greitemeyer decided to see if video games can turn schadenfreude (enjoyment/amusement at another’s misfortune) into empathy. They asked half the participants to play Tetris – a neutral game – and the other half to play a version of Lemmings in which you saved other lemmings from their doom. After gaming for 10 minutes, they were asked their opinion on Paris Hilton’s arrest (yes, I don’t really know why they chose that case either). Those who played the lemming game felt lower levels of shadenfreude at Hilton after reading the story. The also were read other stories about every day misfortune (heartbreak, physical accidents) and they scored higher on a scale assessing their compassion and sympathy.

It’s a strange experiment, but the concept is fairly sound – why wouldn’t walking through virtual life in someone else’s shoes create some kind of connection? even if a subtle one? If the results are close to the truth, the future’s bright, as there are now more games than ever being created which show a personal, or empathetic, viewpoint.

Game creation software is simpler than ever, with tools like twinery.org making it possible to create a game without needing to know a stitch of code. This has opened up game creation beyond independent die-hard programmers, or big business games, into the realms of pretty much any one. This changes the narratives of games. From the embarrassingly obviously marketed big breasted woman warrior stereotype, or the same game (*ahem* Age Of Empires, COD + Sims) remade a million, similar, ways, that larger game companies can tend to pump out, or even the niche puzzle games that make my mind do somersaults. There’s a space for those and more, but in the realm of first person RPG’s in particular, there are some very simple games putting you in some everyday, but difficult, situations.

Papers, Please

You don’t need Nazi zombies, for example, to make Papers Please a tense game. Living the day to day life of a border guard, you see people killed trying to access your country, you turn away those with desperate stories, and if you fail to do this, or do it adequately, the game shows you that your money for food is gone, and your family has died. A day-to-day situation for some people, placed in front of your screen. Rather than a satisfying killing spree, or empire building, you’re stuck between moral dilemmas.

http://papersplea.se/

Papers, Please gameplay
Papers, Please gameplay

Games like this may not drastically change the world – but they may make someone more empathetic to, say, the current issues facing migrants across the world, as well as those working at those borders. A previously maybe black and white issue – let people live, or ‘protect the country’ (you can see where I’m situated..) – becomes revealed in more complexity through Papers Please, as seen through the eyes of the normal worker with no other choice.
Freshman Year

Freshman Year was made by Nina Freeman, with art by Laura Knetzger and music by Stephen Lawrence. Going through the evening of a girl in her late teens, a ‘Freshman’, with a few simple choices over which text to send, or when to go out that evening. Again, it’s a simple game – yes, you may not choose to say ‘lol’ as much as Nina does, but things would get convoluted with too many options – but as you continue, your choices change and limit. It’s short, so have a go:

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http://ninasays.so/freshmanyear/

What’s interesting about this Freshman Year is how options over a choice of clothes, where to meet, whether to try and arrive with friends etc are all given, but there are shown to be no options when Nina is harassed later on. All standard points, stated over and over, that these are not factors to focus on – but victim blaming is insidious and often internalised. When you find yourself in the final scene, and are unaware of the insignificance of your previous choices within the game, you question any decision you made previously in the game, highlighting this insidious nature. However, the inability to escape, and re-playing the game with different choices, felt genuinely theraputic. You are again in control, and can see you actions don’t impact the result. You still end up in a bad situation, but you know there is nothing you could do to prevent it – no matter what the police say afterwards about what you were wearing. In a similar, but different, situation, there was no option for me to stick my keys in his eyes, or run away, like I would see myself doing in my imagination. My head was frozen and my body was a rag doll, thinking over how the whole situation had come to be, and how ‘could’ have prevented it. Family and friends who saw me in that state asked what I was wearing, seemingly unaware of the madness of it (I was in a full length dress and velcro trainers…barely palatable at the best of times), and again that guilt rose up inside. Trite as it may seem, playing this game, and showing it to those who asked such questions, helped me regain a feeling of control, through a realisation of the lack of control the situation provided. In the final scene, you cannot choose any options, but you can chose not to second guess those you’ve made.

These are just two of my favourite games, which I’d call empathetic games, but you can call what you like. There are many more, playing with our ideas of free will, morality and justice. When I was young, lots of people were worried about video games damaging their kids. Now that anyone can make games, the damage, or beauty, in a real world can be looked at through an individual’s perspective.

In the future, I’m working over at Just Gushing on a series of ‘Day in the Life’ games, detailing some first hand choices and experiences. If you would like to submit material for a story, or work on one yourself and would like advice, please e-mail justgushing@gmail.com

Drag Kings of the British Music Hall

Originally written for Just Gushing

Discussions about drag will usually include references to balls, Paris is Burning, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, maybe John Waters films. You could be forgiven for thinking that the drag scene started in America, in the 20th century, as a part of the art scene and intermixed with gay culture. In fact, Drag Kings and Queens had been strutting the boardwalks and music halls of Britain for centuries before Candy Darling came to town. Vesta Tilley – who I’ll introduce in a moment – provided for her family off a drag income since she was 11, in the 1800’s. Drag was at once controversial, and uncanny. In a time when women and men’s fashion and references were more distinct, drag’s scope for societal satire as well as character comedy was even wider.

Drag kings fell in popularity, and attention, over the 20th century, but they never left. Since the 21st century rolled round, there, so did a whole host of female Drag Kings, such as troupe/band/art collective The Kingpins, Queens, like Lolo Brow, and many other artists who use gender in their performance.

The Kingpins
The Kingpins
Lolo Brow
Lolo Brow

In a celebration of Sutton House‘s Women’s Season, and the old music hall drag kings Sarah Waters 1998 debut novel, and classic, Tipping the Velvet is showing on Friday 20th July. In honour of this, the Late Night Library Club, will be holding one of their immersive literary-themed evening events.

There will be performance, hosted by Rubyyy Jones; Carradine’s Cockney Sing-a-long; a Q&A exploring the themes of Drag Kings, Music Hall, identity and performance; as well as a presentation with Art Macabre.

In continuation of woman’s season The Amy Grimehouse’s presentation of Paris is Burning – Tudor Realness will be showing on 24th July, also at Sutton House.

In a Just Gushing celebration, we’ve written about one of our favourite music hall icons, Vesta Tilleyvesta

A Love Song Too Late. (Cornwall, Nanjizel. 1st April, 2015)

Milk sop sea lathers rocks – Gilette – and the wind fights hard on page and pen. Waves cross waves in bays. Slapped on each cheek by the wind – sharp wake up, always needed. Igneous black rocks swirl like cereal in cream. Foam flies back from the palava in puffs that go on nigh on a mile.

The alleyway of rock, stage left of the cove, bursts with foamed gesticulation in time to a swinging rhythm. Flailing ghost fluff arms reach out and are submerged. Cobwebs stretch out with the waves. Lying back, reclined, on turbulence.

Sat between the rocks I watch. A crack to my left, a snail hermitage, when you poke your nose in. Land, sea, salt, earth, made this seat. Grab lungfulls of real, un-’freshened’, air. Cold and full down to my belly. Visible veils of vapour layer the landscape, radiating back from the waves. Howl Howl Howl, said the wind, first.

Can I watch this, be still, sink in? Do we always interfere when we stick our noses in? Are we here to record, as we love to do it so much. With a heavy bias towards ourselves.

If it was a plan, it wasn’t the best laid.

Gulp in the air, feast your eyes, roar in ears, drop doubt. The further we drift from the earths cycle, the sooner the tyres will run out.

New Orleans to Nashville: Starting at the Start

I’ve been travelling around the Southern U.S (New Orleans to Nashville, via many-a-place) for the past week or so, writing a lot, and I would love to share some of the experiences I’ve had up here. However, the obsessive in me wants to keep everything from the trip chronological.
(…Also, I haven’t had the time to type much up yet… there’s a lot of paper to organise first.)

SO, let’s start at the start and see where we go from there. This is a short refrain story I wrote at Terminal 5, before boarding the plane.

Tomb Building at the Terminal

‘Hello mhmmm…
is it me you’re looking for?’

mock sings the barrista.

Vowels stretch across the well-branded chain coffee shop. The shop gives way, lapping over the edge of rows of seats, with the lip of a mock bar looking down across them.

Lines facing each other, back to back, then facing again. Most faces face their phones and food. Some stare straight ahead.

‘Helloo..’

Past the chairs, a brightly lit high street. Complete with the high street varieties of person, playing their characatures. Meandering dwardlers, fast pace swift steppers slide along the slipstream. Couples, children and families clump like pond weed, catching up and setting down passers by. Minor obstacles for the dwardlers and runners. Everyone is covered in bags.

Wheeling, shouldering, hitching, dragging, lifting, sagging, twitching, twisting bags. Backpackers are legs attached to backpacks, bewildered beetles pushing through. Childrens wheelies seek out unsuspecting ankles. Carrier bags, everywhere, for every extra.

‘Is it mee you’re looking for?’

Before boarding those cold, improbable, metal, branded, birds, watching in from a wall of window, people are on edge.

Whiffs of panic, desperation, persperation, rise off bodies and are pumped throughout the port’s air. Staff aren’t flying, just working, so they can see the funny. Giggles come from the bars and stands, not the tables and chairs around them.

We cattle can laugh, but not giggle.

There is a serious business to attend to.

Pharoh’s each, we’re stuffing bags and faces. To embark on a journey over timespace, as many material possessions as possible seem to help.

Who knows what’s waiting on the other side?

Do they have shampoo in New York, Bali, Columbia? Better get some, just in case.

Has everyone got enough food? If the plane doesn’t crash, we could starve to death!

Bags hiding people run manically about, before pausing by a seat. Divested of their human, they are arranged around them in a barrier, a fort, leaving the owner safe to stare at their phone.

We’re flying into unknown. Even for regular travelers, on a repeated trip, the sky is still unknown. Store up, prepare, worry and grasp, then switch into the haze. Eyes set ahead, somewhere. Headphones keep our sound environment small, disconnected. Comforting.

(I was told once that when people can hear music only to themselves, the end is nigh. It hasn’t happened yet.)

A glint catches the corner – pearlescent cat eye rims… I do need some. For the trip.

I may not find a pair in Miami. Well, a good pair…

‘Helloo

Is it me you’re looking for…?                 ’ Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 00.50.25


I’ll be back soon – with something possible more exciting than the temptation of sunglasses (‘IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?’ asked absolutely no one) – so, y’know, hold your breath…

x

Mention for Memotone’s Hand

Will Yates, Memotone, Sonder – however you may know him, you probably do. His soundtracks, or albums, or youtube eve, may have permeated your present, sometime.

He broke his hand the other day, walking, hunching a bit, out of his idyllic countryside home. Walking under a black ladder, on a black night, distracted someone who tries to distinguish between tones. He slipped and fell on his hand, doing something of an evil to metatarsal( they’re in hands too, yes?), or two. Now he is a little bereft as he can only play with one hand. He’s still recording one handed piano, and writing a song for Just Gushing on guitar – as not being productive seems to be a physical impossibility for him – but I thought I’d put up a video of a two handed Will in memoriam to its temporary damage.

He recorded a piece of him, just going what he does best, and improvising on Guzheng, among other things. It was kindly recorded for us at Lemon People after my incessant requests (as I used to live with him and never, never minded any noise). I’d like to put it up here too, to encourage anyone to give him a look, as he’s an interesting individual, artistic in many ways and ceaselessly creative always.

Listen to more here and learn about his work below the video.

As Sonder (as in this piece), Will uses items including piano, keyboard, clarinet, trumpet, zither, guitar, bass, drums, glockenspiel, organ, melodica and toy instruments, generally looped on a Boss RC-50 loop pedal. Learn about him as Memotone, too, here

Hope you get better soon Will!

Link

Fill-in Sheet for Fanny

As part of the Lemon People project Stalking Fanny I gave Fanny fill in sheet, which I then quoted for the story itself.

The other day, walking through _________, I felt _______. I never lie, but ________. The face had reminded me of someone else. Or, maybe a ___I heard what I hear in my head when I’m _asleep______, ‘____________________________________________________________’. It was like another place. (Short description here).

When I was ________ I knew I wanted to __________. When I was __________, I decided I really wanted to ________. I _______ the reason was ___________________. My _________ whirls around _________. I’ve never _____________. I always ____________.

The cold makes me ___________. The best climate is ___________. My favourite film is ___________. My favourite book is _____________. They are ____________. I am __________, sometimes. If I could put my work in only a few words, _____________________. ______________ ?

I got distracted. This is __new______ for me. As I was walking, I saw some litter up ahead. Leaning to pick it up, it was that image of that facial expression,

It’s funny how things happen. I started ________ in ________, never thought it would become ____________. Nothing makes me happier than ______________. Nothing makes me angrier than ______________.

The image curls into my pocket. I feel __________. The road ahead widens. I get to where I’m going. I get to _________________.

­

Here are Fanny’s answers;

The other day, walking through __space_______, I felt _light______. I never lie, but __i get angry ______. The face had reminded me of someone else. Or, maybe a _deer_____. I heard what I hear in my head when I’m _asleep______, ‘___Red grass and green sky_________________________________________________________’. It was like another place. (Short description of any planet here).

When I was _a girl_______ I knew I wanted to __play chess________. When I was __a boy________, I decided I really wanted to _win ________. I _think______ the reason was __Kubrick__________________. My _feet_________ whirls around __a doublebass________. I’ve never ___been in a band__________. I always _watched films___________.

The cold makes me __horny_________. The best climate is __September_________. My favourite film is _2001__________. My favourite book is __Neon Bible___________. They are ___inspirations_________. I am ___nostalgic_______, sometimes. If I could put my work in only a few words, _it would be frustrating____________________. __Say what____________ ?

I got distracted. This is __new______ for me. As I was walking, I saw some litter up ahead. Leaning to pick it up, it was that image of that facial expression,

It’s funny how things happen. I started __here______ in ___now_____, never thought it would become ___tomorrow_________. Nothing makes me happier than ___chokobons___________. Nothing makes me angrier than ___lies___________.

The image curls into my pocket. I feel ___great_______. The road ahead widens. I get to where I’m going. I get to ____Nebraska_____________.

Doing The Pantomime Horse

Washing and roaring and thrashing, pushing in and dragging out, scores the room. Laura lies in half consciousness, letting it wash over her, as the image of her Aunt Gwyn miming at her to brush the back of her teeth fades and warps, leaving just the feeling of furred teeth and a heavy, warm cocoon around her. Her small head of dark tendriled hair burrows under the pillow, aware of the moment lifting and trying to climb back in.

People always claim to sleep better by the sea, or to at least feel better as they wake up to it. The sea stroking along with the moon, stroking along with some intricate timing arrangement that our bodies remain in sway to. Always expecting the completion of the circle as it turns to cycle, always content in continued completion. The beats were off though, out of time. She’d been hearing the sea in the morning for a few days now. Dragging in and pushing out. It’s not a flat calming sea, but it ssshushhss as it moves in and back.

As the air in the room chills and fug lifts from the bed, Laura feels the throbbing starting down her right side. Her oesophagus widens a little as the acid nausea waits at the back of her tongue. It tastes and feels like the side of a brick wall.

Laura twisted the room’s noise into a rhythm, and for long stretches it follows (but it doesn’t, really). It fakes in and out, and rumbles, growls, clockwork grinding, making the sound heavy. Days that turn intelligent design to poor handiwork. Days lacking oil.

Aching sigh and eyes opened, Laura pulls herself into sitting position, and watches the room clarify. A children’s room, a map on the wall, old stickers peeling off. Blue tack on the wall where pictures got old and fell and no one replaced them. Scribbles on the wall. ‘Know Thyself’ scrawled by a hand that saw that prospect as simple and completed, as 13 year olds are wont to do.

Looking around her old bedroom Laura felt less sure of any self of her own than she may ever had. She hated more of this room than she related to, and hated much more those things she still related to. Clothes now unsuitable, books she was afraid to read again; to spoil her impressions. Bible by the bed. Bible by the bed. Tradition followed, in case her mum visited, or could see somehow. Or if God could see. If he saw everything though, he was a sadistic pervert.

The judo belt hanging above the mirror, for want of elsewhere to hang. She had never fallen ‘correctly’ outside of a judo class, nor had she ever tackled someone to the floor since she’d finished her lessons, around 11.

Voices break in on the room, she recognises them, not as related to people but as related to the other times she has heard them. Reaching under the bed Laura pulls the crutch level and in 1 long stride is by the door. In 3 short hop strides, she’s on the other side of the door.

Outside, moving across the pavement under matching sky’s, people stare. Laura can guess why, but it doesn’t stop the worry that grows when multiple people keep staring at you. Is there something on my face? If there was, she can check when she gets to the shop and has a spare hand, it would be better somehow. There are less predatory male stares, which was at least a blessing, but more suspicious stares. Questions being written over her movements, irregular. Know thyself – if that were possible – which self are we supposed to know? The self others see through us in anonymity, ‘first impressions’, that self that people barely recognise when it’s described back to them by a friend who once saw them that way, and does no longer? The self that lovers see, secret selves in comfort, our worst and best selves, screaming flying stars, whispering caresses, the self in relation to the loved one, dependant on the lover? The self each person we know sees differently, the hated self, the comic self, selfish self and all? That secret self that philosophers believe in, a solid self seemingly separate from experience, either ego or id, backdrop or the entire set; that self no one seems to find in time? Laura thought of that self, sitting under shifting emotions, environments, interactions. She had thought it was there. How can it stand apart from everything unless it’s created by nothing, connected to nothing? A bump to the arm knocks her elbow down had on the plastic, leaning on the pole to support the leg. Like one of those dancing souvenirs that sway side to side. The grey balloon of puffa jacket continues to orbit past her, and everything makes less sense.

Laura knows what she is not. She is not self-sufficient, independent, or strong. She is not weak, but she is far from invulnerable. She is not confident. She is not cruel, but she is not always kind or forgiving. She is not a genius, she is not entirely brainflat. She is not one extreme, nor the other. She is not different from everyone, she is not the same as everyone. She is not transsexual, she is not a typical woman, she is not sure anyone is, she is not male, she is not a leader. She is not immortal, she is not George Sand, she is not sure that she is Laura, she is not sure that she is not Laura.

The traffic sea no longer rushes in and out in cycles. Now it’s right up against her it just bursts and growls and honks and intimidates. She keeps picturing herself slipping into it and drowning. She moves closer to the buildings. Laura is not suicidal.

Passing a T.M Lewin she looks inside. A couple browsers, in after work, too nervous to buy anything. She’d never been inside that shop before, she never really considered it. She pictured herself in a blue and white pinstripe shirt, like the girl on the pillar smiling blandly. A snort erupts from her nose and she smiles a no holds barred wide childish grin. One of those signs of madness, laughing in public. Laughing at the accepted and unquestioned is madness truly madness, unless you laugh with a crowd. Madness, truly, madness. Having several selves is madness. Acting how you do with friends or family with strangers = madness too. The more inescapable it all grew to seem, the better Laura felt. People stared harder as she smiled.

Rivulets of people run along the roads tidily, the rush and roar of traffic sweep Laura along with them. Out of, step. Know thyself through comparison, through questioning those things which you are not, is that correct? She was certainly not the one who injured herself, she knows that without comparison. Could she say she was certainly not the nervous woman she passed smoking outside of Topshop? Is there no space for a ven diagram? Is she certainly not the woman behind the headline ‘Mother kills children ‘for their own good’’? Or the man smiling about insurance on the left of the headline? There’s something about London at rush hour that makes stress tangible and testable. Easier to build self serving membranes between people you’re pressed against.

Laura’s palms are red raw and white mottled, bruised past purple. Her pits are sweaty and keep her warm, while she hasn’t felt her fingertips for a while. She’s sick of not fitting through the gaps people open for her on the pavement. To dip into her bag and check the time means stopped to take it off her back, but it has maybe been an hour, two? Mannequins’ hang in windows, or are propped by a metal rod disappearing up when their rectum should be. There are two types, one alien thin, a tall drip of water, the other slightly wider, maybe by an inch. All chalk white or black plastic, mostly headless. No one walking in and out or around looks like them, they all have heads and hair and pores and bumps and breath and sag and scar and taut and fraught and very very few have anything in their rectum. Laura knows she is not that.

Walking by the sea, each wave washes the feeling of a gasp, memory of being dunked under as child in the bath, hair scrubbed. Water dripping cool down the backs of ears. The wash of the cars driving up and away made Laura feel dirtier with each wave, bin water spilt on your arm, black bits that come from London noses. Bright puddles reflecting sky turn to grey sludge as dark drapes over them. Each step punches bruised palms, each glance trowels on top of her; each missed gap, pushing elbow, makes her sad, and today is not a day to be sad. Out and moving and watching should not be sadder than sat and still and waiting and thinking.

The big shops and fast food joints are inserted into bigger buildings once for committees and collections and houses, made to look imposing, and to be used for imposing, from on high. Once they were sparsely populated with residents or businessmen or Lords of influence enough to guarantee personal space. Now they run packed, on a Tuesday at 5pm NikeTown and Topshop and Office on Oxford St look filled with a slightly more discerning type of looter. Is that breathing life into old city buildings? It could almost appear democratic or socialist for so many to fill buildings made for so few. Though the many are only parts sweeping through aisles. The profiting heart is still made up of the few. They just no longer need to be in residence. They can ‘reside’ somewhere convenient, like the Canaries, and this will all happen of its own accord. Shop girls save clothes behind the till, to spend their salary over, to make the most of a discount that makes the clothes only 20x their production and import value.

Laura’s head is too caught up in buildings and rats to see her way, and her crutch hits a woman’s ankle in front. The woman turns with a face of Hades. It falls to a face of sniffy anger when she sees Laura whole, and the closed face turns back to its destination. No words. Burning on cheeks, and edging her knuckles. It got dark so quickly, sick tinges the back of her tongue as she sees just how dark, how quickly. Rush hour is in full flow. People keep moving her along, towards the underground, but the steps are hidden under masses of feet and she just can’t. She can, she reminds herself, she technically can. But really, she just can’t. One push, misplaced crutch, and she sees herself lying on the floor, unseen, her quiet high pitch voice asking the boots and heels and trainers that climb on to and over her to please walk a little to the left, to please leave a little room for her to get up, or maybe to just avoid her extremities, the little crackable fingers, toes and nose.

To turn away from the station, the steps starting soon, Laura has to break some crowd, cut out a slice. Angry shoulders knock her side-to-side, rocking in the waves, breath and warm coats squeak against each other. The crowd pants. Half a metre till heights start dropping down the steps. Just lift up an arm and turn and say something. Muggy panic. The crutch escapes the feet. Up there is still sky. Laura points the crutch – right out to her right – breathes deep and shouts

‘PLEASE LET ME THROUGH. THANK YOU. PLEASE COULD YOU..? THANK YOU…’ until the people begin to thin and fall away. There are no benches here, so she leans on the ridges edging Niketown’s displays and pants. Washing in dirty London air she feels elated, exhausted. The sun breaks from under one cloud, for second, before hiding under another. The first cloud climbs over the rest. White cloud over grey. No leaking.

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His Sanctity, Her Marriage

The wife looked over at her husband appreciatively, tinged slightly with disgust. They had known each other, in a way, long before their marriage. They revolved around the same circle. Everyone the wife knew revolved around this circle[1]. It was a small, but international and quickly revolving circle. She could feel at home and call up friends, if in the right season, in New York, Paris, Somerset, Val d’isere, many places aside from the Kensington house in which she was currently sitting. Though, for the most part, as she had been beginning to sense, the group was really rather small.

They’d ‘known’ each other since youth, but they had never found themselves alone together. Until a summer 3 years ago – they had been married for two – in Monaco. He had sparkled all night, making everyone laugh, looking impeccable. He always looked impeccable. Right now he looked artfully apathetic – this was his usual look – handsome, well structured cheekbones and seriously joking duck egg eyes. Sitting across the room from her, regarding his book with what looked like sly amusement. Tapered grey cord’s crossed one over the other; one fine dark leather Berluti boot hung supinely off an orange sock, in mid-air. Yes, he did dress well, and he had done then. Not that ‘then’ had been particularly long ago.

Everyone she knew loved him. Or said they did. She found it hard to tell, but everyone did seem to flock to him, and always appeared to be laughing around him. When he’d directed attention towards her, it was flattering, it made her feel like the centre of attention. She had two older sisters, and a younger brother, and had been at boarding school since 10. Always sensible, liked, but never loud or brash, she had never really been the center of attention.

Now he sat across the room. 10 years her senior. Smoking disspationately and turning the pages of a Churchill biography her father had brought him for Christmas. His eyes would occasionally lift from the page, as his fingers turned them slowly. Before they had married, the young wife would have looked away when she saw his eyes begin to rise from an activity, while she was watching him, for fear of him catching her glances. He hadn’t looked far enough up to meet her eyes yet. He would look at his cigarette – Malborough Blacks, from Israel – admire it, put it to his lips, and return his gaze to his book. He was very much like her father. (Her father very much approved of this.)

His lips were full, for a man, and for a smoker. They had been one of her initial attractions to him, along with his confidence. Now they unnerved her, in their fullness. They were too sensual. They pouted without effort. Not quite masculine. They lingered too long at the cigarettes base. As they sat, in their library on the 3rd floor of their Kensington town house (well, his parents), the blue grey smoke spread across the room. It followed the slice of light from the room’s one window[2], lingering near it, in a roundabout way. The young wife had been pretending to read, but she knew he wouldn’t catch her looking, and had given up this pretence half an hour ago. He hadn’t noticed.

Didn’t people say that one can sense if someone is staring at them? Her Daddy had told her once that, in the army, and covert ops and such, one was trained not to watch a stealth target during ones approach. It was believed, supersticiously, her Daddy had said, that the target may feel it. The army generally didn’t seem to be very susperticious in other ways, particularly the many officers she’d met who were friends with her father, so she had felt it must have some basis. Her experiments on her husband, on long week nights such as this when they found themselves only with each other’s company, showed contradictory results. If he could sense her, her didn’t care to ask the reason for her attention. He’s used to being stared at, maybe he’s immune. He breathed the smoke out laboriously slowly. Obscenely slowly. Fat, pink, lips relaxd into a loose ‘o’. Held that way for what must be minutes.

A couple of the wife’s friends had dated her husband in the past. Brief things, from school most of them. Her closer friends Matilda and Clarisse had dated him. All of them said he was ‘a perfect gentleman’ and ‘such a character’, but very little else.

The book she’d been pretending to read over the last few months is his. She’d found it in the library. It’s a collection of stories by Kate Chopin. The one she had almost finished[3] was called ‘At Fault’. It was bothering her. She knew he would have read it, but didn’t want to hear his interpretation, as she imagined that would either bother her or disturb her. There was this girl in the story, Fanny – ridiculous old fashioned name – who she despised. She was some old soak, a failed half character whose slatterny got under the young wifes skin in the most aggravating manner. Fanny also reminded the wife of her husband. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but she could hear Fanny suckling as she drank as she read in the same way she could feel a cold finger up her spine when she saw her husband suckling on his Malbouroughs.

She had come to an idea over this dragging afternoon. She wasn’t sure when it had formed as since it had started forming she had been trying to get her brain to ‘look the other way’, as it were. They were both traditional in their company, he had his boys, she had her girls[4]. Both of them had attended single sex schools, so this was natural and inevitable. They had separate worlds – kept within the small world of their group, but different nonetheless – and she used to like how such a suave man still had his boyish pursuits. It reminded her of her Daddy.

The wife watches her husbands lips caress the butt of his black again. Near the end, the smoke rises closer to his face. It spreads itself liberally across his passive visage. She recalls walking into her Daddy’s office, a kind of blurry half memory, she was, maybe, 8? He was getting up off of the floor, too far from his chair, and too awkward a position to be have been doing things other than kneeling. Daddy had been helping his friend Gideon adjust a new suit. Gideon didn’t look as flustered as Daddy. He only had to stand there while Daddy helped him. Upon seeing her, Daddy had snapped. She wasn’t even allowed in his office. The bit that had come back to her now, that was new, was that she had looked back. Gideon and Daddy had been lighting each others cigarettes.

Her husbands face looked licentiously passive. He dropped the butt into the ashtray without a look. She prayed he wouldn’t have another. She smoked socially, but it was entirely different. His smoking affectations annoyed her beyond belief. He seemed to love it, made it look exstatic. He got far more from smoking than he did from her. She felt herself blushing for him, all over. She wanted to punch the obscenity off his face. The young wife considered dropping her drink. Would he look?

The ‘o’, the long inhale, the tired exhale stretched like a sigh. Smoke all over him, clinging all over him. Disgusting. Salacious. Repugnant. Who is this man I live with? This wasn’t the first time she’d thought this. But Daddy loved him. Why?

‘I want a divorce’

It sounded like it hadn’t come from her body. It was her voice though, just thin and stretched.

He looked up. Incrementally he looked her up, and down, and she felt the rage rage rage fizzling in every pore. LOOK. She screamed inwardly. LOOK at your wife. It lasted minutes, the silence filled with internal screams. He took another drag. He walked over, and blew it in her face.

The young wife’s mouth fell into an ‘o’.

‘O.k darling, have it your way.’

He put his cigarette out in her drink.

‘I’m surprised that didn’t catch fire’

He walked to the door.

There he turned, and looked straight into her eyes. His eyes were beautiful, she involuntarily considered. Rage still tingled, now mixed with nerves.

‘Oh and darling? Clarisse and I have been fucking for a while now. I thought you should know’

The hard wood dense clunk of the door rang in her ears as she sat. He was not like Daddy then.

[1] except for that boy she’d met at the Barns Folk Festival when she was 20. He’d been a plumber. They’d seen each other a few times over a year. It fizzled out, though, as these things do.

[2] She hated this room.

[3] The only on she had read.

[4] As with her mothers, and grandmothers, friends, they would remain ‘girls’ until death when in one anothers company.