Friday, 21 October 2011

the sea: wave 1

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The following sequence of texts - 'The Sea: 6 Waves' - were co-written a couple of year ago with my friends the artists and performance makers Cupola Bobber (Tyler Myers and Stephen Fiehn) as part of a 'Reading Companion' for their performance Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me, which toured internationally in 2009-10. Published in April 2009, the Reading Companion is an exquisite 24" x 36" double-sided colour poster in which the texts are laid out to take on the shapes of the landscape - Sea, Mountain, Cloud, etc.

Other contributors of additional texts in the Reading Companion were Ian Abbott, Alice Booth, Simon Bowes, Lucy Cash, Karen Christopher, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Zach Dodson, Jeff Harms, CJ Mitchell, and Bryan Saner. The poster was designed by Zach Dodson and illustrated by Ezra Claytan Daniels. 

To view the poster, and to order a copy, see here.

The collaborative writing process was simply structured and wholly pleasurable. Over a period of some months, Tyler and Stephen would send me a textual 'wave', and I'd respond, bouncing another one back across the Atlantic to their base in Chicago. A slow writing into and out of what lapped or crashed on to each other's virtual shorelines.

My heartfelt thanks to Tyler and Stephen for letting me post these texts here, and for inviting me to collaborate in the first place, in this play-fully dialogic way.
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We resolve to believe these people who eat their lunch in silence in their sea-facing cars arenʼt waiting for it to do anything in particular. They are not keeping watch over an unruly neighbor, they arenʼt expecting any event at all. They are just sitting at the edge and looking out precisely because nothing much will happen beyond the slow mechanical play of cloud, sky, and water. Speaking of fishermen who catch no fish, Sebald says, “I do not believe these men sit here all day and all night waiting so as not to miss the time when the whiting pass.” (1)

It should first be noted that I am speaking out of place and that I am not The Sea. I am an imposter with a blue suit on, standing in the middle of the Atlantic, yelling: “I am the sea too” at the passing ships. I have been here - listening - for quite a long time. I imagine that I will be here until my senses cease to work, The Sea has so much to say. Sometimes the gossip from town(s), about the crabs that tickle the belly, about so many clouds (they can be ornery), and ...

I will have you believe that The Sea has just whispered to me: “I have yet to find a home.” I will have you believe that The Sea has just whispered exactly that, and also that I have in return asked the following: “What do you mean? You are The Sea.” The Sea looked down and examined its shoe. It rubbed its forehead. Then it said:

“Iʼm not so sure I can answer that simply, but I will try. I am contained, controlled by gravity and other forces, I go where they direct me. But, I am constantly working to find my way beyond my borders. Sometimes I think I have finally broken through, but I always find there is a new shore waiting for me. There are some people who have built their houses close to me, and sometimes during the night after they have left I sneak into their homes, wet the pages of their libraries, wash over their cutlery, take the fruit out of the bowls sitting on their kitchen counters, wash the floor boards and retreat back to my side of the border that marks me. “

With a wistful note in this last, The Sea trailed off. I took my sky blue kerchief out of my jacket pocket (matches my carnation), and made it ready should it be needed (my manners are superb.) I asked: Why? The Sea started with a faraway look:

“Way out West, way out West, there …”, but then stopped. I readied the kerchief, but after a dramatic pause and a few false starts, The Sea continued:

“If there is a shoreline I will set myself to it, that is my lot. Several billion years of work, digging in the sand, moving it, putting it somewhere else. Knowing this, the men along the shoreline have built walls to protect their towns from me. They are also constantly working, building me new buildings of the same towns a little further west, something to look forward to. They dig and they build walls and I slowly grind them down to dust (wet dust), and then they rebuild their churches and stores and streets and towers, and I work away at it; and so on and so on. This is just what I do and I cannot speak for them. I am always on the move, I have yet to be at rest and feel as if rest will never come. Sometimes it may look like I am calm, or at rest, but I am still working. One would think that I would grow tired, or that my age would keep me from working, but I do not think in terms of tired or age or anything really, because I donʼt have the ability to know if I canʼt go on. Itʼs only that Iʼll go on. Itʼs alright with me.”

Noting a break in the monologue, I saw a chance to tell The Sea about the delightful little town of my childhood … there was the small “playground” that was a patch of sometimes muddy earth next to Mr. Cooperʼs store, and hide and seek with the two neighbor kids and their imaginary friends, and there was my father’s study and the set of encyclopedias, the 4th of July parades with the Indians with the muskets, the abandoned house in the woods where we dug out a fort, the bananas with honey and milk weʼd eat on the picnic morning in the new sunlight, the door jam with my height and corresponding year, the red toothbrush I got at the dentist office (the dentist office smelled like no other place Iʼve ever been.) Just then I noticed The Sea had stopped listening, so I carried on in my head but let The Sea have silence. I was lost trying to remember the layout of every house and apartment I had ever lived in when the sea broke in.

“I have found a set of steps on the coast just north of Blackpool, I believe they call this area Cleveleys. I spend a great part of my days trying to climb these steps. That is, to really climb them the way they were intended to be climbed (one step at a time.) It always goes like this: I step up three stairs, and just as I reach for the fourth, I am pulled back to my body. I guess that I cannot go anywhere unless it (all of it) also goes with me. Sometimes I imagine that I am walking up the steps and onto the land, and through the town past the church, through the pastures on the other side, over the privets, and up the mountain to get a look at what everyone is looking at when they are looking at me. Because I have no sense of it. Imagine, all eyes on you, and never knowing why. But, if I am on the mountain, what am I looking at?”

What indeed, I thought. I thought, can I short circuit my brain by looking at my hand? I watched The Sea. Concentrated on its face. Concentrated on the creases around its eyes, and they seemed to brace themselves for something; looking, but not outward. That look an old Wyoming sheep herder might give when asked if there is anything they regret about a life lived in a trailer in the mountains watching sheep. And their answer is the coffee. The Sea concluded:

“We all walk in mysteries. We are surrounded by an atmosphere about which we still know nothing at all. We do not know what stirs in it and how it is connected with our intelligence. This much is certain, under particular conditions the antennae of our souls are able to reach out beyond their physical limitations (2). These are the shores of dreaming.”


(1) WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, London: Harvill Press, 1998, p. 52.
(2) Goethe, letter of 23 July 1820, quoted in ‘The Writing of Stones’, Cabinet no. 29 (‘Sloth’), Spring 2008, p. 39.

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