Suppose a Collapse - excerpt
My brain is wet and sloppy and not yet awake. A ball rolling, a marble in my mouth, a detachment, and the shadow of an attack that’s not quite reached this morning. Dreams come on unexpectedly in the light of a new life, where the end of our fights meant sliding along the wet tarmac of the road, like a snail, slowly feeding under a joint or turn, curves, unremarkable yet steady. Depositing me here, in bed, without the heaped weight of a collapsed body, the force of pressure after a long battle.
I tried making bubbles, a big one to cover and shield, but the fact of her presence and action would burst it like crashing or trying too hard; a visualisation fast failed. Sun is smacking the sides of buildings so they give off that cruel light, like the view from a dentist’s chair. Moss is the lichen of living houses, roofs full of it. Flashes of pyjamaed limbs stir in the other windows. Behind mine, the light of the outside (cold) mixes somewhere in the air with the orange of my nightstand lamp, I’m making my own twilight, although I should call it dawn. The uniformity of the soft yellow fence. The highest thing in the sky from here. Gray blue sky now; a very slow moving screen. It’s a whole swathe of colour, a child’s watercolour painting (the page is sopping, creased and wet) and you find yourself surprised that it’s there instead of the cloud muddied norm of the winter. Ivy creeps over the joints of two walls, touching each other. The small brown door that reaches the alley is homely, yet out of place next to a kerosene oil tank. Scarred concrete ground with a black bin resting on it. Socks, pants, jeans strung up on two nails from stained beams. I’m facing this alleyway of old Belfast, steam rising like a pillar of smoke from someone’s heating-hut chimney.
The police station fence has the most strange garden lights. The sort you’d think motion sensed in creeping terrorists. Before I get up, I’m reminded to tend to my plant, how its dried Rice Krispied hairs go brown on the outside, before they die. To give speed to the body, caught up with the head.
The recent past, this time last year. Although there should be days that stand out, they went when I left. When I watch t.v., I watch t.v. with no one new. The texture of the sticky leather sofa with the odd embroidered cushion, like icebergs sitting amongst ashtrays and filter tips. The cigarettes I have in frozen air, catch my throat like sucking on the smoke of a ten pence bright blue ice pop. Bed is where our limbs lost meaning. To try to be sincere: there is routine, there is t.v. There are hours stretched out in a thin line where the veins of my wrists pop and my eyes grow wet each second spent releasing them from shadow, tension, watch freezing fog descend from bedroom window.
Friday night, the first nocturne - my short working week. I wait around until the time I set off walking, in the furred thermal tights of a winter bird. I pass the main road, along the park road, skirt the rugby field. That one house with giant floor to ceiling windows; tall and vagrant. It’s got a chair in hues of cream inside and then I move my eyes right over to the tops of mountains looking down at me. Usually they’re no more than shapes, like cut out paper, fabric, card or paint. Two shapes: the sky, the mountains, this rough cut line between them, and depending on the time and light they sit apart or flush and swept together
they are eerie and art like. Art! These big shapes, all there is really. They are far
At night, I draw the buildings until they turn off all the lights. An ode to ambivalence. Successful immersion means the body isn’t knowable, or someone that you know. How to dissasociate a self spent trammeled under words until consciousness hits limits, not fully knowing what it is, or where. To be a witness then, to see, as a meaning.
I see the bleakness of the situation, our moments snapping back on selves, broke open with small cuts, hurt, and mixed in; all these words. But only just the boring parts, the trees, the leaves, the dirty houses. The disguise comes- at a fast pace – in any good days had, the moving quick, the sidelong glances, plans half filled and full of past tense.
I grew up watching films with my Mum. One of the most affecting was Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies. We laughed and cried, whilst watching a mother and daughter, on their respective sofas, watch t.v. and smoke fags. My dreams are the offbeat moments in these fictions where I smoke with my Mum. In reality, we’ve both smoked, but never together. I yearn for the imperfect feelings of familial harmony in Secrets and Lies, a meal eaten at a table, unacquainted people brought together.
It hurts, I said. It’s like the storm in my head broke the thunder directly above my flat, the lightening half a second before.
Saturday afternoon anxiety, like ‘kitchen sink drama’, is a seemingly ordinary and banal reflection of contemporary urban living. Instead of being driven by character and image, its arc is formed by sound and internalisation; what reaches through the open window to touch the walls. The wheels of a buggy and the intermittent coo of a pigeon. Busses changing gears to mount the hill outside where the smell of roasted chestnuts mixes with the damp plodding of the street’s empty faces. Crawling under the duvet after a bath like all the strength leaked out of you and flew down the drain; moaning. Inside, things are more solid and quiet, yet all the soft utterings from the city’s grind arrest you so precisely that the best you can do is listen to the day give way to night like changing tides, until the alarm goes off for work on Monday morning. Relief is the inside of the commuter train, its stops and starts like breathing, until Saturday swings around again.
I hang my head over the edge of the bed and stare at a gap in the laminate, two pieces pulled apart, and in the black slit; dust. Decide again, to raise the blinds. At home, in Belfast, I like to wander the streets in mid afternoon when the sun is nearly in. I stumble into Other & Father by artist Mariah Garnett at the MAC. My eyes glance over all the neat laser cut lettering stuck onto the wall, outside the sunken gallery. There are two films, one a documentary made by the BBC and aired in 1971 and the other by Garnett where she recreates the former, playing the role of her estranged father, who originally hailed from Belfast. Where, exactly, am I in this moment, as I turn my body at different angles to view the films on opposite walls? Where is she, and her father, and her mother and the BBC?
It’s 20?? but the year doesn’t matter when you’ve never met your father, the knowledge exists outside of time. The film’s story involves a young couple, one Catholic and one Protestant, a load of rubble and parks and buggies being rolled down streets. The BBC said it was a documentary, Romeo and Juliet, said it would be played outside Northern Ireland. Both parents left, one to England, the other to America. I wonder does she feel rejected, or how much the 1971 film influenced her parent’s situation.
The video I’m ‘rearranged’ by is a different one. It’s single channel and on a t.v. screen, sits outside the gallery, beside her diary writing on the wall. It shows her, showing her father, the film from long ago which he’s never seen.
He debunks many of the untruths the footage performs. I watch them say some little words together, his face glows in the shining reflection of an iMac screen. The words in her diary are of first meetings, fumbling feelings, strangeness. I feel the fullness of just speaking, flickering from thing to thing, resting, interrogating. The films presenting spaces as containers for time, like the inside of a train.
Garnett says in a gallery video to accompany the exhibition online, that the work is partly ‘an attempt to understand why he left’. What is the use in knowing, is the question that walks with me now, as I reach through the space for an exit.
Reality betrays, in words and actions, the fiction we build up around ourselves. It pushes ideas to the point of a knife, the film as safety net. Maria Tumarkin says on the subject of parent and child relationships in her book Axiomatic; ‘parts of us will always, must always, remain unknowable to each other.’ It’s 20?? and I see an image of my father for the first time on someone’s facebook that’s public, a photograph of a photograph from long ago when he was a child. A new narrative with the shadow of the past at my heels. This feels like ‘continuing’ and it feels like ‘living’ even though it’s probably only ‘thinking’.
In Secrets and Lies, the first meeting between estranged mother and daughter is in a greasy spoon cafe, they sit side by side, lit by natural light, we are there, watching from the window.
In Garnett’s video of her and her Dad, we’re behind them, steaming cups of tea or coffee being lifted to lips with no wobbles. It feels like the past is viewing the future, whilst they watch an extra dimension, fiction, in the documentary on the iMac. It’s odd to think that fiction can be damaging, when I’ve always thought it’s truth that hurts the most.
When I have my first meeting, it is with my paternal grandparents, not father. He still shows no wish to know me. We have plain mugs of hot drinks, we sit at a table, there are tremors and tears. Years of watching films with my mother on our respective sofas, late at night, feels like preparation for this day, but I make sure to remember that I’m not in a film. Yet, when they enter the room and try to sit down in the wrong chairs at the table I’ve prepared, I direct them to the right ones, opposite me, and begin to perform the whole thing from introduction to closing remark exactly like I rehearsed, over and over again, until it is perfect.