1- Some Times
Some times, chocolate does the trick. Now drinking Easy Now tea in a day that was actually “ay.” I wasn’t able to bring myself to work during the entire today that seems to extinguish quickly, afternoon turning into night, and my hope and faith once again tested. I have followed every temptation to not focus. But, surprise, I was not able to focus on the distractions either. Lately, I’ve been living in this idea of the incommensurability of writing a book. Because I have been living in this feeling of “how does one sit to write a book?” and I am talking here about the actual body position, the coordination of peace, patience and fierceness and appropriate lighting that is required to endure this task. A durational performance. Being quiet like when I was a school girl doing homework, when all of my subjects (activists, demonstrators, artists) move, confront power, travel across, cross, transgress, shake things up, embark in the delirious vulnerability concept that Michaela loves so much. She says she wants to cite me, and conventions go that I have to publish first for her to be able to do this. I have even thought about the book dedication as a tactic. In order for me to honor my sister, the life of my sister that gets only registered in the small sphere of our family and hers. In order for me to dedicate the book “to her way of life, the mother of all tactics: love,” I have to write the damn thing, like you cannot inhabit a dwelling until you have built the house. How is it that a writer like me cannot bring herself to work? Put a word in front of another, risk, consider, make herself take a path that, this time, at least for a while, won’t be abandoned until the next round of edits. After agonizing and almost dropping that article entirely, I loved reviewers’ comments and later my readers’ comments, (one of my readers even said she drew hearts in the margins, next to some of my phrases.) Since I am writing about affect, it makes total sense. It doesn’t really matter, for the time being, that that drawn heart becomes a political tool or a clear agenda towards social change. I don’t need to claim that. Perhaps I just wanted to write about things and let the politics emerge by themselves. Barthes, along with that guy who wrote about the re-enchantment of the world, were my inspirations when I entered academia (who did I think I would become, what/who did I want to be?). Mythologies, Barthes writing about catch fights and bistec and fries, Garbo’s face. That is what I call the retirement house, being in that time out of time when you can just be impressed by something or someone and touch them with your words, not dedicated words, not a love letter (Barthes did this, again writing about lovers), but analytic creativity, like ghosts and cultural politics, trauma and race. Concepts that emerge conversationally, like that time when I was walking after a snowy day and I argued, organically, that snow doesn’t cover but reveals shapes. Or that snow is a joke, a superimposition that seems to ask that we pay attention to divine brush strokes.
2- The café in the winter
Writing a book presupposes that there will be a presence that will outlive me. This pulsating cursor that is eager to be moved, one day will stop, it will be encapsulated in pages, enclosed between two covers. Perhaps I actually don’t want to cease to be a promise; perhaps I believe that after becoming a published author the next step is death. It’s November. Now it gets dark early. Now it’s night time. I’ve been trying to focus for a while. Jumping, avoiding going back to the book prop I was so happy to go back to this morning. The morning ritual, getting out of my house, listening to one or two songs, the duration of the walk, arriving at the café, getting my latte, being joined by others with computers, that kid with glasses and his iPad, legs hanging from the chair. I can recognize some of the regulars already (the kid’s name is Ethan; I heard his mom calling him.) I bet people are intrigued about what I do. Sometimes I wish they’d asked me. Sometimes I wish I was a composer. In my fantasy I am a prolific composer, no writer’s block, no childish fear. A professional who passionately assembles sounds, textures, voice. I know I have ample freedom because a book is an engaged process of thinking and bringing others into the conversation. Others who have preceded me in their thoughts and craft; others who are reading me. I am alone now, but not really. I need to understand this. Get loose. The page is an arena. I should live there instead of avoiding it. Outside, I encounter death. I imagine death to be the completed book. The becoming adult that I rejected all these years. But the book as process, the completed book and the ones to come is where I live, where I heal. In denying myself that space, that opportunity, I die a bit every day, I die the death that the women who preceded me died. Broken dreams, unfinished thoughts, not totally their own. In the page that is my life I write myself, even when I write about others, big politics, things I cannot even grasp (the book is that tanteo, that moving through uncertainty trying to figure out a couple of things about this troubled beauty I love so much, the beauty of screwing up reality or the kick that we get when we uncover the fictions they sell as the real). In the page, I wrestle with my own unfinishness and I am born, by myself, held by my words, chasing bodies, listening to these voices that whisper in my deep ear. Is that my sister? Is she now coming to the rescue to dictate the book, to say she is holding my hand, like she did when I was scared at night in my own house? “Hold me tighter!” I used to tell her as she started to lose grasp of my tiny hand as she fell asleep. “Welcome, sister,” I tell her now. There is room for the two of us in this house that is the book. Come live with me, let’s be reborn; life lived again, healed, wounds stitched. Forgiveness.
“With these headphones fear is reduced 60 %” I told him while I was showing him my on- ear Bose headphones. “Even if you are not playing music, these help you focus. I was not playing music right now… Sometimes, you can hear your heartbeat”. It’s important to keep life in the background, to be reminded of the core. While you remember, gather, collect the pieces, create connections, get disconnected from your body, stretch far and wide to discuss embodiment, it’s important to hear your heart as soundtrack, to check vital signs, a task (writing your first book) that will make you suffer like you never did before… but it won’t kill you. After all, death is where we are headed. “Esto que estás oyendo ya no soy yo” says Jorge Drexler. Liveliness. The recorded voice. After all, after the weight, the emotional value that we put on being alive, on keeping alive, the record wins, despite theories of performance that privilege the live event. I read that the person who invented voice recording had that in mind; he wanted to be able to return to the voice of his beloved. Play it again, and again, and again. Like in pictures, the record brings you back the moment that preceded the departure; evidence of lives lived, like Barthes says. Existence before the exit. But it’s necessary to let go, as Ada/Ava (Manual Cinema) taught us the other day: the live movie with shadow puppets about two elderly sisters, one of which is dead and imagined as returned by the other sister. The undead, deteriorating. The other, the one alive, put on gloves, hats, on her sister to cover the signs of decay, just to keep her twin alive, by her side. Pictures of the two together on the wall confirmed the new reality of corpse barely moving: one, a smiling skull and the other, vibrant flesh. I loved that they, Manual Cinema, did this story with shadows, contrast, mirrors. A game of illusions. Background and front. Actresses and puppets. Humans and figures. We were all kids that day. A game of light. That’s what we are. Always. Forever.
4- Call You
Sometimes, I want to call my sister. I see this need as purely transnational. I miss calling my sister on the phone. Her disembodied voice was all I had for many years and even when it wasn’t easy sometimes (the pull of the here and now that drags you with colors, shapes, more pressing sounds made me at times defer that call) I loved calling her out of the blue, to speak with her while I ordered a latte or while waiting for the bus, a way of having her imagine my life here. Once I hang up on her. I had read on Facebook a post by my niece. I can’t recall exactly what it was about but I think it was something about a motorcycle accident my niece’s boyfriend had had; not too bad, but still an accident. That day, on the phone, as a way of starting the conversation I mentioned the fact that I had read the post. Then, my sister’s voice made me think that she had not seen it nor been informed about this yet. “Ooops,” I felt that perhaps I had screwed up (with that weird sense of screwing up a situation that had been publicly announced on Facebook). I asked my sister to hold on, I took the phone off my ear, paused to think for a minute, and then decided to lie to her, to tell her I was going to call her back because something needed my attention (I was on the bus). Then I private messaged my niece on Facebook, I laughed about it. She said my sister had totally noticed that I was bullshitting about this thing that made me hang up… When my sister called me, not too frequently but sometimes she used to do it, she would start the conversation after I said “Hello?” with an “Hola, Marsha?” with a sense of agitation, a kind of excitement, perhaps the acknowledgement that she was emerging from nothingness to my day, suddenly showing up in LA, her voice perhaps conveying the tiredness of having made it all the way from there to here. “Hola, Marsha?” is that you? Who is the “you” who is there? She knew that the only thing that I recognized as “me” came after being called Marsha (not any more) and even though she didn’t quite like it (I sensed it every time she called me by that name, esp. in the way she pronounced the “sh”) she still stuck to it. Not like my mother who insists on calling me Marcela, I guess as a militant way of asserting her choosing. Why wouldn’t she? My dad went with it. He was big on the “a”. “Marshaaaaa”. Sometimes I fantasize, especially here in Chicago with so many family houses surrounding my building, that my family lives in the city, that I get to show up for a Sunday lunch, that we do holiday decorations together, that somebody comes for a visit, that we go together for brunch. When I lived in West LA in an area where there were all those empty streets to ride bicycles, I thought of my dad, I used to think how much he would have liked to ride his bike there as opposed to riding it in the garage in Buenos Aires, like he did when he needed to burn some steam and would not have the courage to venture in the avenue where they lived, Avenida José María Moreno, and be almost “shaved” (as I like to put it) by the buses. I think he fell once. Something happened. That is why he would go for a spin in the garage because the bike rack he bought for the car was too complicated to mount and the nicer landscape by the river was not enticing enough to get into the trouble of the bike rack.
Most of the time when I am at the café I conceptualize, I write in my notebook, draw, look out the window. I am now wondering if this is a factor of being in a public space. Writing is an intimate act. It’s like being naked. Most of us here are working on our laptops. We come to a public space to just be by ourselves. This lady who I’m sharing the table with (I mean, she was occupying my table before I arrived), didn’t even look at me when I asked her if I could join her at the big table. I think I said “Do you mind if I sit?” (sometimes people have group meetings at this table). She said “not at all” or something like that, but I could tell that she was bothered by my question as if I had interrupted a thought or a scene on her screen (what’s the name of the author of “You got Mail”? If we were in LA this would not be impossible at all)… She doesn’t want to be disturbed but she is here anyway. Like me. I come precisely to be in the company of other people. But I am not necessarily writing. Now I am. And it does feel weird, but I guess I’ll get used to it. (People can see that I don’t type properly. I mean, I do not use all my fingers, I don’t type effectively. My dad, who had limited schooling, was a perfect dactilógrafo. I guess he took typing lessons when he worked at the bank at a young age. He loved typing, and one of the last things we shared was a word doc. He wanted to learn text alignment (this is so like my father). He transcribed the leg movement instructions his doctor had given him so that he would be active despite his deteriorating condition. So, when he was at the computer, he would type “Pierna derecha levantada” [Right leg raised] and I, seated at his side in the precarious little stool we had in the studio room, would say “Now press ‘tab’” (he wanted to make a list, a perfectly aligned text out of the set of movements the doc had given him). I instructed him on how to move on the keyboard so that he could fix the body movements on the page to then do them in bed. At that time, I cherished the moment in many ways: I enjoyed sharing this experience with my dad, aware of the preciousness of our last moments together. It was emotional for me, even though we were busy with lines, both textual and embodied (pierna derecha levantada). He never knew he was dying, or so we think, because we never talked about his diagnosis. And this contrast between trying to master movement and form, and life’s own workings, which are not entirely shapeable, made me see this as a beautiful scene, one I thought it would be great for a performance.
When people read me they keep me company. I guess I do too. Two solitudes that classroom settings disrupt, when we all read together and play with the ideas offered by the author in their text. Now, let’s see if I can write the book proposal. Many times, I came to the café making a promise that today was the day, but somehow something didn’t quite feel right and I had to go back to the drawing board. I had been able to carry through the argument but suddenly everything started to collapse, without me being able to make something of that catastrophe. I’ve been commuting from the screen to the drawing board for six months or more now. It’s driving me crazy. It is as if I had to pause to being able to live, live and go back to the drawing board. I guess that’s precisely what life is, even though people insist on methodology and having a plan. I’m working on the book chapter description and I am committing myself to settle on something. The proposal is a genre of tight writing, highly conceptual, a style that in a way kills all the joy of being surrounded by so many amazing happenings, performance assertions. I have to commit to saying something definite about them: are they hope, or indignation or the path to change or failed, reactionary political gestures, or capital slow- down or convergence? I see people doing this, just picking some poetic term or some totalizing term that explains the phenomena quite arbitrarily in my view. Perhaps success is about being ok with others not entirely agreeing on the totalizing frame or concept you decided to stick with. I can do this orally, risk a theory; I see it like painting things. Somehow it seems more poetic when it’s impromptu. It’s gone the minute I say it. Perhaps that is the reason that oral communication is better for me, gentler. (Oh, the anxiety of the printed page…) And it’s also immediately relational, it’s expressed for someone who is there with me, in the moment. And even though it’s me who came up with the way of presenting the idea, it is sustained, embraced, expanded by both of us, like when I played volleyball. Keep the ball in the air and build a set of only 3 passes that end in victory, un remate. Teams are clear, demarcated, everyone has a particular ability and all are needed. It doesn’t always work like that in life. I used to hate being in the second line where the strike ball (el saque) was surely going to hit. It was a tense moment, especially because, then, I didn’t have contacts and I used to play without glasses. When we played outdoors, in the sun, my eyes and the sun compensated for my deficient sight and I was able to see more or else ok. Indoor stadiums were a sure problem. The fear of being hit in the face by the ball. Shame. Divided balls also made me anxious. But there was a way out of it: you just had to shout “YO” (ME) and involve your full body in backing up that decision. What I like in voleyball is that mix of softness, beauty, and determination and attack; the fact that an effective attack can be preceded by a graceful jump, a moment of fly and then a strike down to the floor. So, you have to be light at first and then sharp… or not. It’s all about tactics and deception.
I just read about Suely Rolnik’s work with her graduate students. She writes that in her graduate program incoming students do not have to have a research theme or question. The requirement is to stay deeply connected with what troubles you, to pay attention to the reason behind your need for research and for writing. I remember I wanted to write about that picture that was part of the Power Point that circulated over email on December of 2001. The Power Point narrated the story of how the Argentine economic crisis came about— “el armado de la bomba”— bringing the pulsating, unstoppable irruption of the crisis to critical attention, slide by slide. In the style of a cooking book, the piece unfolded the calculated rationality behind neoliberalism, the IMF’s recipes of economic reform for debt-ridden countries, that kitchen (la cocina de la deuda) that the Museo de la Deuda Externa so brilliantly displayed as part of its exhibit on indebtedness as a calculated disaster, shock doctrine style. The picture I wanted to write about depicted a man with a makeshift cross confronting a trail of gas coming from a source that was not visible in the frame. It is an impressive image, with a religious undertone, not just because of the crucifix but because of the image portraying the government as a trail of gas, an incorporeal substance, both threatening and decaying. From a concrete standpoint, the picture is the evidence of the fact (as Horacio González poetically put it) that that day (December 19) the only thing that was left from the falling/ failed government was repression (35 people were murdered by police during the December 19/20 demonstrations). The protester held the cross as a symbolic weapon, both a defensive and an agonistic gesture. He resorted to his body and to the embodiment of a superior power, religiosity calling for ethics. Piedad. This is the image that I wanted to write about. Once I signed up for Peggy Phelan’s office hours and, in between conversations about Beckett and Kantor, I told her that that image was the reason why I wanted to join the Ph.D program at NYU. Not a research question, not scholarly curiosity. An image. Because that was the image of my country in December 2001. On one of the most significant dates in the country’s history, I wasn’t there. I witnessed the transformation of the everyday spaces (that bar where my friend and I had recently had a beer y una picada) into scenes of fire, of people’s confrontation with the police, the police riding horses and hitting protesters with sticks. Sometimes, I consciously evoke memories; I bring into the moment my awareness of having grown up in a country where there was a violent dictatorship (or many). It goes like this: As I walk, a thought emerges as if I picked it up from a basket of available thoughts, “I am from Argentina. That’s where the dictatorship happened. That happened to my country. It’s part of my history. That nightmare was lived history for so many.” It’s a conscious movement of the soul, but it comes unexpectedly. I guess I felt the same when December 19 and 20 happened. An event that takes two days of remembrance, even though the crisis was already well-under way from before. I was in NYC, post 9/11, so my history already included something traumatic not totally mine but not totally not- mine. So, that image is the core of why I wanted to write, perhaps because of the awareness of the pose, the profile of the man yielding his crucifix, responding to the violence of the vaporous government with a makeshift object that was so symbolically charged, overdetermined by the tank man who simply positioned his body in front of tanks in Tiannamen Square. But this man, this man knows his body does not have much value. He creates the image for the police inside the tank but also for the many spectators who will receive it across time zones. The man makes the vaporous gas, the absence of a government, a concrete presence. Perhaps, that’s all that matters.
Nov. 2013. Chicago
The cafe is De.li.cious in North Center. “Delicious has been a neighbors staple in North Center for a over a decade, to vegans and non-vegans alike” says one of her owners, announcing that it will close in September 2018.