Stories and Bodies and Stirrings from Paris

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“The world has a mortal fever. I am a witness to this sickness.” –Inuit hunter, Greenland

There is the story and there is the body. The body is where we feel things. The body takes in the information and records it as sensation and responds with an action—a smile, tears, a handshake, a standing up, a sitting down, a refusal, and acceptance.

In Paris, I’ve been hearing the stories and seeing the bodies and feeling the feelings and recording the reactions.

The artist Mel Chin came to Paris to make a film “The Arctic Is Paris” about an elite subsistence Inuit hunter from Greenland who wakes up on his dog-less dogsled in the middle of the city. I heard Chin speak about the film-in-progress (and saw excerpts) at the Gaite L’yrique, a theater not far from La Republique and the headquarters ArtCOP21.

In the film, the hunter wanders the streets pulling the sled himself (reminding me of the Greenpeace/Radiohead project with the polar bear in London) until he sees a French standard poodle and soon falls into a dream in which a team of poodles helps pull him. The dream sequence Chin showed was funny and poignant and sad and adaptive and provocative and funny again.

The film project was truncated by the Nov. 13 attacks, Chin explained, but Chin turned the camera on the “atmosphere of emergency,” and started to work on story about the link between climate change and global terror. “Dreams are crushed on a daily basis,” Chin said. “But new dreams are made.” This is the kind of artist resiliency I love.

After Chin’s presentation, two subsistence hunters from Greenland Jens Danielsen (who is featured in Chin’s film) and Mamarut Kristiansen were invited to the front of the room, where they sat on Chin’s movie sled, sandwiching their interpreter. Thick, stoic men, they wore shiny blue tops and shorn short hair.

“We can no longer read the signs,” Jens said.

We look out the window in the morning for the weather. Our ancestors taught us how to read the sky, the clouds to predict the weather because of changes to the ice. The tracks we used to use are no longer there. We can’t go as far as we used to. In early 90s we hunted and fished in the sea ice. We would drill down 2 meters. Not this way today. These years the thickest is less than 1 meter. Scientists come and tell us what is happening, and some say no it isn’t happening. It’s hard to be in the middle. But we are the ones who see the changes and live under them.

“I have an opinion,” he said. “Our ancestors never experienced this rapid change. It’s us, people, making the pollution. The use of oil and powering things we use is polluting our world.”

He sat still as he spoke, stoic. Like a block of ice.

“Our biggest challenge is when darkness comes. Ice used to come two months earlier, in October. We can’t go out hunting or by boat now because the ice comes in darkness. This is the hardest period of our lives.”

The hunter holds the microphone and says these words and does not move his body very much. I imagine him standing at his window far to the north looking at the sky. I imagine the movement inside him as he searches for the signs and does not find them. I feel the stirring inside myself.

This is what empathy feels like. To feel in myself on behalf of someone else. This body at the window, looking. This body with his dog bodies. The body moving across the snow. The body searching. These are bodies at the coastlines, bodies at the forest fires, bodies at the floods. These are the bodies gathering up the belongings. The bodies migrating. The bodies untethered. The bodies without belonging.

When you see people on the frontlines of climate change, you begin to really understand, if you didn’t before, how place is inextricably tied to culture. You begin to understand how there aren’t words for the things that are happening this, but that silence isn’t acceptable. You begin to feel the thing rise in you, like fire, like sea: an anger, a certainty, a resolve. You hope everyone around you feels it too.

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Theater as Sneak Preview, Paris COP21

12321473_10207324221397304_1019933800125326378_nEarlier this week I went to Montreuil, a neighborhood in eastern Paris, home to the 2-day People’s Climate Summit, an alternative to COP21 organized by Coalition Climat 21, a network of over 130 civil society organizations working to birth a social movement to address climate change. Also in Montreul was the Global Village of Alternatives, a festival of all the ways one can de-fossil fuel-ize their lives—gardening, compost toileting, beekeeping. The Summit’s main focus was on building momentum for a movement and to that end offered a seemingly endless number of talks and teach-ins every hour. I chose a conversation/panel about system change and walked away from the festival (and the ragtag but wonderful street parade, complete with trombones and drums) past the colorful cardboard arrows, through the neighborhood to a warehouse/concert.

The panelists, among them the former ambassador of Bolivia to the UN, Pablo Solón, Pat Roy Mooney of ETC Group, Cindy Weissner is National Coordinator for Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Mary Lou Malig, Global Forest Coalition Campaigns Coordinator, and a delegate Peru representing campesinos. None were very optimistic about potential COP21 agreements. Solon stressed that with no text/language about leaving fossil fuels in the ground or about deforestation, there would be little change, as these as the two issues have pivotal impacts on developing nations. Together the panelists called for a cultural systemic shift, acknowledging that real change to climate policy and fossil fuel consumption will only come about once the masses demand it. So the mood was both dour and energizing, from one minute to the next. While I realize the importance of raging against the machine (believe me), I sometimes feel amidst activists that activists without something to rail against have is no raison d’être, so they have to keep railing and railing. That might be necessary. And it’s also exhausting. I get animated by possibility and conviction, and that was here too. But sometimes the proportions are off.

Next up, to my surprise and delight, was a mock trial facilitated by climate change journalist and activists Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein: Exxon vs. the People. In a brilliant display of meaningful theater–what Klein called a “sneak preview” of what’s to come–they called 10 witnesses to the stand, each of who gave personal testimony to the ways they’ve experienced or observed the impacts of climate change in their lives, work, or homes. Among them were poet/activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands, a young Sami woman from a reindeer herding family; Faith Gimmell from the Arctic Village in Alaska; Jason Box, a climatologist; Cindy Baxter, founder of ExxonSecrets.org; Ken Henshaw of Social Action Nigeria; Bryan Parras of T.E.J.A.S; Sandra Steingraber, writer and activist; Antonia Juhasz is an American oil and energy analyst, journalist, and activist; and others.

The strength of this trial—and its clear impact on audiences—was the first-person testimony. To hear person after person speak about climate change is touching down on his/her home landscape, impacting their lifeways and cultures, is incredibly moving. The Sami reindeer herder spoke of the loss of ice and reindeer. The Arctic Alaskan spoke of the excessive fires in her state last summer of the decline of salmon and caribou, and the toll of these losses on the mental health of indigenous communities. “When I say we subsist from the land, it’s not just food security, it’s about our culture, spirituality economy. It’s the very social fabric of our community. And when a community is stressed you see the devastating impacts.”

The Nigerian, Ken Henshaw, spoke of flooding and desertification that has left Nigerians desperate. Dead rivers and the loss of an entire farming season due to too much rain in the Niger delta. Lake Chad, a source of irrigation and of fish, has shrunk to half its size. People become destitute and desperate, he said. And in those conditions it is easy to recruit. “We trace directly the rise of Boko Haram to climate change.”

And then, there is benzene in the water: 900 times higher than the normal amount. The life expectancy in Ogoni land, he said, has decreased to between 43 and 50. “I am 39 years old,” Henshaw said. “I’m afraid. I drink that water. I’m really getting scared.”

Bryan Parras spoke of deteriorating human health in Exxon refineries in Houston, Texas (home state of Exxon) and high rates of cancer. “It’s no coincidence that we have the best cancer center in a state that also has an industry that operates much like cancer.”

The scientists and journalists said important things too, but it’s the first-person testimony that gets me. The ground truth. The ways climate change is disappearing landscape and culture. When I hear these stories and see the bodies of those telling them, I think: what is there to quibble about?

The people tell the story. The journalists tell the story. The story is already told. Exxon learned 1970s, thanks to their team of brilliant scientists, that burning fossil fuels increased greenhouse gas emissions, which contributed to warming temperatures. And then they began to cover up the facts. They began a campaign of silence. They hired experts from tobacco, skilled in silencing, to help them.

So McKibben and Klein and a team of witnesses take Exxon to task.

“Exxon maintained an architecture and ecosystem of denial, disinformation, and deception,” McKibben said.

“It is Exxon’s crime that says money trumps life,” said Klein. “So we do not seek that money. But we have a duty to seek justice.”

In the assembly hall, Exxon is indicted by the faux judges (one of them the actor Peter Sarsgaard).

While the crowd cheered and applauded, I was reminded about what Peter Sellars says about art-making: that artists have to make the thing visible before it becomes real. And so my conviction is that this important theater is indeed a sneak preview of what is to come.

I was also thinking about this amidst the cheers and the applause. We can take Exxon to task. And we must. And we must also acknowledge the ways we have benefitted from the acquisition of that oil, endlessly affordable, over the past 40 years. We are implicated. It’s uncomfortable. But from the discomfort, we too can shift.

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Duet with Melting Ice

 

The amazing Chip Thomas (Jetsonorama.net) filmed this for me and made this beautiful video.  I can’t get enough of the ice.

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Some Choreographies from Paris…

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(from Michael Pinsky’s “Breaking the Surface,” La Villette – Canal de l’Ourcq, Paris)

9 December 2015

COP21 takes place at a conference center in Le Bourget, north of Paris, about a 15-min metro ride from the apartment of my dear friend and host, Shannon Cain, in the 10th Arrondisment. Ten more minutes on a free shuttle and you arrive at a very official looking place, with large white signs and a grid of thick white pillars each decorated with a country flag. You need a badge to get into the official negotiators area, the “blue zone,” but the “green zone,” or the “Climate Generations” pavilion, is open to the public. A long tent constructed of particle board and god knows what else, it houses dozens of NGOs and non-profits and conference rooms, tables with pamphlets and expensively-printed posters and vinyl panels and compostable trash and flush toilets and photographs of glaciers and diagrams of technical solutions and indigenous people in traditional clothing and a lot of people on laptops on phones and scientists talking on screens and even, at one point, Al Gore, broadcast live from next door.

Early on I walked by a screen showing footage of the polar bear who keeps trying to find ice to stand on and keeps falling through. I stood there for a bit watching, feeling exasperated and anxious and helpless while someone next to me took a picture of the screen. Then I moved on and listened for a while to some young climate scientists talk about their bicycle trip from Antarctica to Paris (!)(www.PoletoParis.org) and then a bit later Al Gore up on the monitor said that in the last 40 years we’ve lost over half of the animals on the plant (not species, just individual animals) due to habitat loss and disaster.

There was a lot information to ingest (including nearly 10 seminar rooms with panels and discussions happening all day every day every hour), but I wasn’t much hungry for information because I was too busy feeling things. Eventually I found the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion and sat and watched movies made by Sami filmmakers. The Sami are indigenous to northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. I didn’t know anything about the Sami until a few days ago, when a young Sami woman testified against Exxon at a mock trial held by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein (brilliant!) speaking about her people’s relationship with the reindeer. Among other changes, warming temperatures have caused ice melt along travelways both reindeer and Sami people need to hunt and survive. Whole herds have fallen through the ice. So have people. Also, rain frozen on the surface of the snow prevents the reindeer from smelling food underneath, so they starve. And that’s problematic for the people who depend on them.

The short films showed vast and beautiful northern Scandinavian landscapes, big skies, blue mountains, stretches of green and yellow scrub, snow, water. The two I saw were both by women. (Yay!) Elle Maria Eira’s film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akeu6WV_WxQ#action=share) was about a young Sami girl whose village is visited by oppressive Christians who want to convert them, or at least destroy emblems of their culture. Beautifully shot, it featured gorgeous underwater swimming scenes and swift running through the landscape. Amanda Kernell’s award-winning Stoerre Vaerie (Northern Great Mountain) (http://cargocollective.com/amandakernell/Stoerre-Vaerie-Northern-Great-Mountain), is a short film about an aging woman in denial of her Sami heritage coming to terms with loss. Gorgeous. Haunting.

After the films, the room filled with more people—including several more Sami in traditional dress, several Inuit people, and one young Shuar woman—and cameras and microphones, and soon Swedish-Sami artist and singer Sofia Jannok began to sing, her voice like a prayer. She spoke about her people, referencing the film Avatar. “I felt like I was watching a painful documentary of real life, my life.” She spoke of the grab for land in the region by mining companies and the increasing rate of suicide among Sami youth. In a video of one of her songs, two young Sami walk off into nothing, one into snow, the other into sea. “People are like the ocean,” she said, “whether you see them or not they are like the ocean, endless.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr13WV7UkgA

At this point, I was unable to hold back the tears anymore.

“Artists and cultural workers always speak to our hearts. For us politicians it is sometimes difficult to reach out and touch people’s hearts,” said Aili Keskitalo, President of the Sami Parliament in Norway. Indeed.

Keskitalo was part of a panel of Sami and Inuit leaders sharing the realities of life in the Arctic and new coalitions such as Inuit Circumpolar Coalition bringing together Arctic Indigenous people to address climate change. “To survive in the Arctic you cannot be primitive,” Keskitalo said. “You have to have an advanced culture.”

All this, while the negotiators were next door making arguments and quibbling and furrowing their brow about cost and responsibility.

It starts to seem asinine after a while. When you hear the stories of the people and the reindeer and the polar bear and the lemmings and the tortoises and the entire cultures and languages and ecosystems.

And maybe this was why I was so agitated. All that energy in those pavilions. Brains and hearts and printed material and fancy screens and songs and the people who are most afflicted and its all swirling around and I think … there is so much at stake, and it’s all seemingly in the hands of world  leaders and … do we trust them? It is too much to ask?

An hour later I’m at CentQuatre, an arts and performance space in the 19th Arondissment (a neighborhood near me and near where the Nov. 13 attacks occurred). There is breakdancing happening in a room by the front entrance, several exhibits of photographs and other artwork throughout the building, and a giant central hall filled with people sitting on the floor listening to a panel of speakers in the front. The hall is lined with banners and signs (“We have solutions!” and “No CO2LONIALISM” and “No jobs on a dead planet”). When I get there Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, is delivering a passionate message. Make no mistake, he says. We’re not talking about saving the planet. The planet will go on with out us. We’re talking about saving humanity. He talks about smart solutions happening in the developing world, like a machine invented by four Nigerian teen girls that turns urine into electricity (http://makerfaireafrica.com/2012/11/06/a-urine-powered-generator/) and other projects that compost waste. “I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure European shit isn’t superior to African shit. So let’s get our shit together and solve this,” Naidoo said. The crowd laughed and hands went in the air and in that moment I knew I was in the right place. The agitation turned to hope.

This is the Climate Action Zone, organized by CoalitionClimat21, (http://coalitionclimat21.org/en) with programs and events happening every day during the COP21, everything from teach-ins to yoga to civil disobedience workshops. Each evening, in a general assembly, those who’ve been inside the negotiations offer a public debriefing of what happened that day. And there are headphones for simultaneous translation, English-French.

As I listened to the debriefing, I realized (again) how complex it all seems. A cap of 1.5 degrees C is now what most island nations are demanding, though the negotiators are barely able to agree on 2 degrees C. A half a degree. It’s probably still not enough. The basic report was that we still don’t know anything but “They are negotiating hard.” One woman in the audience asked a question. “Is there anything positive at all at the negotiations? All we’ve heard so far is everything that’s not happening.”

The speakers on stage were startled by the question. “We weren’t expecting that,” one of the women said. “It’s complicated.”

Their answer: No, not really.

Negotiations aside, the day ended on a positive note with word about D.12 (http://d12.paris/),  the protest planned for December 12 (sadly, the day I fly out), the day after the negotiations. The mobilization will begin with a ceremony honoring those who have died due to climate change with flowers and song and art. The state of emergency prohibits assembly of more than 2 people, so the protesters will go 2-by-2 in red (clothing, umbrellas, scarves) to create a red line of safety, a line that must not be crossed.

As always, I’m deeply impressed by the ability of activists to mobilize and plan protests in big cities. This a most beautiful choreography. And on Dec. 12, one with a beautiful and imperative message.

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Sturgeon

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(Day 8: April 13, 2014)

She could gut and clean a fish and eat it, but there was sometimes the problem of remorse. It would come snaking up the backs of her legs, slithering to the front of her ribcage and lodge itself in her chest. Which is where it was now, while she stood at the sink trying to clean her hands of the smell.

She stood, unblinking, and leaned her forehead toward the kitchen window, her eyes reflecting in the glass. This was an elegy of sorts, a way to commemorate the ancient sturgeon she’d stared at earlier. The one they’d gone to see at the hatchery before heading out on the water to fish. Ten-feet-long and thick as a child, it pressed itself to the glass of the viewing area, its bony-plated skin, its dog-like face. She, vertical and womanly, pressed herself against the other side, and they remained there eye to eye for several minutes. It seemed the sturgeon had swallowed a mouse, four skinny white legs protruded from its mouth and she tried to imagine the mouse underwater, its little paws clawing at the water, clawing for survival, until someone called them whiskers, feelers that scan the bottom of the river for food.

Fingers, she thought to herself. Mouse fingers.

The fish blinked. Once. “Hi.” She winked back.

At that moment she wanted to leave the underwater viewing room and walk up the long ramp to the pond and step over the fence and the rocks, to submerge herself in the pool. To lie down next to the giant fish and reach out her hand to touch its waxy skin and ask, in a bubbly whisper, what the world was like 200 million years ago.

“Do this,” her husband said, waking her from her reverie. She looked at his hands, rubbing against the stainless steel faucet. “It gets the sea-stink out. Trust me.”

She did as he did, the sturgeon’s face still imprinted upon hers, the image of its body still alongside hers. She put her fingers to her husband’s nose. “Better?”

“Yup,” he said. “All gone,” he said.

She put her her hands to her chest and smiled. “Good,” she said, but when he turned away to wipe the counters, she started to weep. When he left the kitchen, she got down on the floor, forehead to the linoleum. And in this way, she serpentined herself slowly toward the sea, trawling for food, doing her best to circumvent the spears, knives, and hooks of men.

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New(t)

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(Day 7: April 12, 2015)

Because the creature was orange and gummy, the girl held it to her mouth and sniffed it. The mother saw this from a short distance away, while in the midst of a conversation with a friend. They were sitting along a river and the friend was confessing to having affair with the woman who came to clean the swimming pool. They were laughing about how clichéd this was–the bored housewife having an affair with the young pool boy, only in this case the pool boy wasn’t a boy but an older woman, “hefty and dyke-y,” as the friend described her.

“She’s very smart,” the friend was saying. “And her eyes are like, I don’t know, beautiful green planets or something.”

The daughter was crouched at the edge the rocks, gently passing the bright and wiggly thing from one hand to the other.

“What is that, honey?”

The girl held up what looked to be a salamander or a newt.

“Oh, look at that! Be careful. Those are delicate.” Of course, there was no need to tell her daughter to be careful. Terra had gentle hands and a fierce love of creatures. This was the girl who cried over trampled worms in the garden and dead flies on the windowsill.

She turned back toward her friend, who said, “And one thing just led to another, I guess.”

“What do you mean, one thing led to another? You’re having philosophical conversations with the pool lady and then you’re suddenly in bed with her?”

“Not in the master bedroom,” the friend said, smiling. “Good God no. I couldn’t do that to Jim.”

In the moment, the mother understood this logic, however flawed, but she did not say so. She looked again at Terra who now had the salamander or the newt up to her face. It looked like an orange peel. She thought of Jim, the husband, not her favorite person in the world, a little lacking in chi, as was often the case with architects. But he was kind and attentive, especially to their children, two boys, one older and one younger than Terra.

In a quick move, Terra’s tongue darted from her mouth onto the newt, then back into her mouth. She paused a moment, as if evaluating the taste, then returned her tongue for more.

My daughter is licking a salamander, she thought. “What about Jim?” she said to her friend.

Her friend sighed. “I know.”

“There’s no harm in that, is there?” she said, gesturing to Terra. As a child, she herself ate handfuls of dirt. When her own mother had asked what was caked in the corners of her mouth, she’d said, “Chocolate.” Her mother had handed her a cloth napkin and said, “Well, clean yourself up.”

Her friend did not look at Terra and the animal in her hands, but up at the trees, thinking about Jim or about the pool lady, or both. “Oh, I think there probably is harm in it,” she said. “I think there probably is a lot of harm in it.”

Terra set the newt back into the water.

Later, after they’d rushed the girl to the hospital, the muscles of her face locked in a grin, Jim was the one who came and sat with them and looked into Terra’s eyes and then put his arm around her mother and kept it there, a necessary and welcome weight.

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One Obvious Choice

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(Day 6: April 11, 2015)

When his bike was stolen he sulked for several hours and sighed a lot. It had a steel frame and was built by Italian prisoners, he said. It was not the kind of bike easily replaced.

The mother of the 27 year old who died when the building exploded said the same thing minus the built by Italian prisoners part.

The singer-songwriter who lived in the building that exploded raised $27,000 in 15 days online to help offset her losses. She had name recognition and gentle voice that when singing sometimes sounded more like speak than song. When the money started coming in she was grateful but also felt guilty. She may not have felt the guilt if the Dominican woman in the building had not been living there, rent-controlled, for nearly 46 years and would not most certainly have to move out of Manhattan, her son and his baby along with her. The singer-songwriter spoke of the Dominican woman to strangers at a party while the hostess, a woman with kindness and cleavage, gathered fashionable clothes into a suitcase. The clothes were not for the Dominican woman but for the singer-songwriting with name recognition, and this kind of generosity only added to her guilt.

When loss is colossal, we feel good about ourselves for offering even small replacements. The solitary losses—an almost-baby, a leg, the sunlight needed to sustain a small farm—are where our fingerfuls of mortar do nothing for the bricks that remain.

The singer-songwriter tried on an oversized black sweater. “I lost five notebooks full of writing and my computer. But it seems little in the scheme of things.” She buttoned up the sweater and stood in front of the mirror and said, “I like this.”

A bike, for a commuter, is not a toy but an extension of the self. It is possible to forget to lock up the self, particularly if one is socializing and then gets invited to drink beer on a day when the weather cannot make up its mind. A bike thief may either be a spy or an opportunist. In any case, without a lock the self is easily nabbed. It takes all of 2 minutes.

Some things are forever irretrievable. At the party they played a game. It is a two-person game, at least. One person silently identifies a person in the room they would want to trade lives with and the other person tries to guess who they chose and why. Among the choices: a blond boy with droopy eyes, a gay man in a beard and a checkered shirt, a bald man eating coconut cream pie, a woman in a lace top hugging a 4-year-old. Of course there is only one obvious choice.

What he liked best about his bike was that it was white and pink and fast. Once he was hit by a car while riding it and flew over the handlebars and landed on his ass. He had to go to the chiropractor for a few months, but the bike was fine.

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The Shape of Sadness

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(Day 5: April 10, 2015)

In the cave when the waves are pounding and the wind is rattling in her chest, she says, “This is a poem.” She says this because the sand is blowing over itself and the waves are rising up from themselves and together the sand and the waves create a unison. She knows how to look for such things, things like composition.

Sitting there in the cave against the pounding she feels a boundless joy and also a sadness. It is the kind of sadness that makes her want to be small and stay small.

There is something about the ocean that calls you back to it. Like Dar Williams says. You come from it so you want to go back to it, wade in with your work boots. Or maybe slide down the slope into it. Everyone is having babies. They walk around with them and push them and people make sweet faces at them. There is joy in these faces and there is also sorrow. A gaze holds so much but we can’t always decipher it. But this is not what we really mean by going back to the ocean. It is more of a metaphor. Because the ocean can hold so much.

After she says this is a poem, she asks, What is joy?

There is such a thing as not being present because one is indulging sadness. One can be with something other than the blowing sand and mist because one is stuck in a memory of a former pounding. Love recently lost will rearrange your skeleton and shift the curves of your brain. You’ll sit in front of the surf and replay early days of romance when you sat in a place not unlike this and felt the expanse between your ribs because someone was telling you you were everything. You still are everything, but when you think of the lost-ness you feel like nothing. It is enough to make you wish you were a sand dollar. Bones on the outside. Birds on the inside. And everyone reaching for your wholeness. This is partly why it makes sense to return to the ocean. For what it takes and what it delivers.

In any case, she asks about joy. Not because she’s never felt it before or because she doesn’t feel it now but because she wants to know it more intimately and forever. She wants to shape it, define it, find its outline and run her fingers along its edges. The way she can do with sadness.

She points to the waves. That is joy, she thinks. And that, pointing to the scuttling sand. And that, to the gull that hovers and keeps hovering because the wind lets it.

She stops in a shop for clams and oysters. The man tells her to wear gloves when shucking them. There are bacteria in the mud. One woman almost lost a leg from the bacteria. This reminds her of a pregnant woman she saw with no arms. How would she hold the baby?

When she holds the oyster, she can feel the shape of sadness. The oyster is still alive. It dies the minute it is opened. She will open it. She will eat its death. This is too much to bear, but it doesn’t stop her. There are many things that are too much to bear and these things, while she cannot bear them, do not alter her behavior. This is the problem with having to share a space with other species. There will always be ants underfoot.

When she eats the oyster she wants to gag. And then it is sweet. And then it is the surf. And then it is sadness and then it is joy and then it is lost.

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Invitation

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(Day 4: April 9, 2015)

When he took his gloves off to look at his phone, the wind lashed at his knuckles. He turned the screen on himself and snapped a picture. The white sky behind him, eyes in a squint-smile, moisture on his nostrils, scarf pressed against his mouth. With a cold finger he attached the photo to a message. It wouldn’t send now, of course, not from this latitude, from this temperature, from this remoteness. So instead he waved at the sky, then slipped the phone back into his pocket and returned his hand to the glove.

He shifted his pack, and walked toward the other side of the island until he reached the walruses–their bulk and tusk, their folds and whiskers, their grunts and their patience. They were like promises, he thought, or invitations.

He set up the tripod, mounted the camera, and looked at them through the viewfinder. In the frame he saw them as a coarse fabric, furling and heaving. He envied them their innocence, their collectivity. The longer he stood there, filming and looking, the more singular he felt.

He remembered her feet crossing and uncrossing, her hand coming to rest on her knee, the little sliver of moon of it shining out from her skirt.

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Mad Music

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(Day 3: April 8, 2015)

This is sad music, he said, referring to Bach. The cello suites. I like it, he said.

She was already sad so the music didn’t seem sad to her. Rather, it was like a ball bouncing down the stairs, chased by a small boy. Not sad, nor happy. Pleasant. Stirring.

They were sitting on a red sofa. The ball she imagined bouncing was also red, because aren’t all imaginary bouncing balls red? Or maybe orange.

She was tired of the chase and turned her body sideways, draping her legs over his and letting him pet her ankles. There was this.

She wanted to be the ball. Quick and round and unfettered. But she was not the ball. She was the boy, and the stairs were concrete and stained with urine and too close together. The ball descended rapidly and she dared to leap the last 5 steps, but stumbled and fell hard to her knees. She got up and kept going, wiping the tears from her eyes with the scuffed heels of her hand. Ahead was a planter and in the planter were several kinds of cactus. The ball bounced up and bobbled slowly over the cactus as if inspecting each one. Surely one of the cactus spines would stop the ball, she thought, a familiar hope slivering lightness into her chest, but the ball kept going and the sliver closed and so she kept going too.

Maybe we should slow down, he said, squeezing her ankle.

She wanted to pull her feet away. The cello was a falling cascade, rapid notes that made her think of the word “scurry.”

Okay, she said. She thought of lizards, their scurrying. She thought of the a man who had tattooed lizard scales all over his body and had his tongue surgically split to resemble a lizard’s. What would this do for his lover, she wondered. She rubbed the front of her teeth with her own tongue, imagining.

Some lizards–a species of whiptail–reproduce by parthenogenesis. An all female species, they clone themselves. They did not need a male to rub their ankles or any other part of their body.

Why are you doing that with your tongue? he said.

Scurrying, she said. I’m scurrying.

He looked at her and made his chin contract in a look that seemed full of pity.

This isn’t sad music, she thought. It’s mad music. It’s fucking screaming. She lifted her feet off his lap, turned away, and stuck out her tongue.

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