if we've survived abuse in context of our creative work then I think it's even more important than usual to make work right now, tenderly though

I saw an ad for a writing MFA, or the products of a writing MFA, claiming: “Fearless Writing!”

I was having an anxious day and I said to my husband, Mike, somewhat defensively: “I don’t want fearless writing. If there’s no fear in approaching the subject you’re writing on, whats the value in writing about it? Did the writers start off fearful and then erase it all out of the writing? I want fearful writing, or at least writing that acknowledges fear is part of the process, part of being a person. That’s my ad,” I said, “Fearful Writing!”

I’ve been having near-panic attacks this week, in part related to the Kavanaugh stuff dredging up memories and fears of sexual assault and harassment by people in positions of power. It happened to me in an art world context, a small gallery in London where I worked when I was younger.

“This week has re-traumatized so many of us” — a comment from artist Kate Stewart on Instagram, which validated so much of what I’m feeling and helped me feel connected to the women and people who are standing strong and fearing and falling apart this week.

It’s been really hard to do creative or thinky work this week because of those bodily memories, which feel more like animal anxiety than a fear that I can describe and place at this point. (In another voice, I might say that I am really feeling that painful point at which my often privileged position intersects the non-dominant positions, the scared positions.)

Mike gently nudged me today: it will help to do the things you care about—puzzling through Gertrude Stein, planting flowers, cooking, walking the dog even though you’re afraid to leave the house, doing the creative work that feels especially awful today because you were sexually assaulted by a man who said your art was good and then you stopped making art.

We can’t be fearless because that would be unrealistic right now. So we can create things through the fear, alongside the fear, like the women screaming and crying in the elevator doorway managed to create a pause, a deeper look.

People Power

A sort-of gratitude journal note:

On Sunday, I chatted with my friend Gee at Ulises, the book space he co-directs, about how we keep ourselves motivated in our arts projects. I often sign up for classes to give myself structure and accountability; Gee said that he finds strength in collaborating with people. He’s really good at that.

Our conversation reminded me of all of the people, lately especially, whom I’ve been fortunate to bounce ideas with, seek advice from, feel at home with. I count in this my husband, Mike, and our dog, Bella; professors and students at Penn; and artists and friends at Vox Populi, ICA, and many other spaces in Philadelphia and beyond.

Just feeling grateful for being able to combine powers with so many smart, kind people, and for community.

'Les Goddesses': bibliography

I picked up from the University of Pennsylvania's library almost every item from the bibliography of Moyra Davey's Les Goddesses. I’ve been grasping for a way forward with this project, and it feels useful to have the books—including translations of those I can’t read in French—articles, and films piled up or saved on my computer.

Davey’s references are diverse: they include theory (Barthes, Dumas), documentary (Malle), biography (Spark), interview, letters and diaries (Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Goethe), and fiction (Dumas, Goethe); they range from 18th-century to 21st-century texts, though mostly European and North American.

I hadn’t noticed this until I was on the couch, wrestling Ivan's paws, typing each entry into WorldCat. Davey's catholic range feels like a clue.  

I’ve also been chatting with people about the next reading-writing group—on Les Goddesses, the film, the published text, and its other iterations. Pedagogically, I want to keep the scope narrow so we can go deep. By focusing on a primary text that we revisit through other texts, images, and films, we'll model Davey's recursive practice.

Her bibliography is a possible framework for this kind of circling around Les Goddesses. I’m wondering how I could group the readings: by theme, type, period? In some kind of Venn diagram? Thinking about those capitalized headings—





—specific names and terms with personal and cultural histories, which turn out to be roomy containers. 

Which five or six words, headings, could guide the reading group? Could help structure a few weeks of this research process? Davey's words or my words? Always having to remind myself that open-ended is okay; don't need to close things down or conclude.

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Dear M.

I'm sharing some thoughts on my project with you because I know how deeply you believe in me—and how little I share ideas with you before they're all done. 

I'm fascinated by Davey's repetitions, her recursions, the way she turns around and around an idea in her work, and from various distances. It's like when I was in art school and the kindest professor, Roger Ackling, sat with me in the canteen and acted out a scene from Samuel Beckett (Happy Days?) in which a man turns a stone around in his hands or through his clothes, up and down and around, and says, "happy, happy, yes." 

I've been studying Davey's black-and-white nude photographs of her sisters. You know what's weird, though? I don't really get them. Her writing got me pretty quickly. You know that I want to be able to write like her. The black-and-white photographs, though, they remind me of art photo tutorials in hobbyist magazines, from when people bought print magazines. If Davey hadn't returned to these images herself, hauled them out of the archive, I'm not sure that I would be printing them out, taping them to the wall, saving them to my phone, trying to figure them out, you know?

I think I'm making a judgement of quality, though I'm not sure—and in any case, it's open to revision. Or is it just that the images don't make sense (to me?) without the layers and circles of stories and images that Davey aligns them with? I think there's a relationship, somehow, to the network of inscriptions that archaeologists use. The stack of references sort of hold each other up. Or like Kristeva's chain of references that hold open possibilities around the Thing void. I don't know. 

Thanks for listening, dearest. 

Love, B.


[Credit to Tonya Foster's Poetics Lab love-letter writing prompt.]  

Life rafts

In the spring, poet-scholar Tonya Foster generously led a creative writing and editing workshop, Poetics Lab, for academic writers in Philadelphia. Foster invited each of us to read aloud to the group a page or so from critical works in progress: dissertation chapters, seminar papers, research proposals. I spoke from Rewritings' methodology section, while everyone jotted on post-its the phrases that resonated—little neon life rafts for the project. We made poems from each other's post-its.

After the workshop, we each received the stack of responses to our own reading. I settled in at a cafe and moved the words around into a sort of poem-grid. I admired clusters that reinscribe my arguments ("near-subjugation by critical theory," "disciplined," "correct critical model," "erasure of human") and cringed at others that reflected back at me the parts of Davey's practice that I struggle with ("nude photographs," "figurative photographs," "b/w, often nude," "figurative photographs?"). 

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