(I can’t sleep– again.)
Yesterday, a filmmaker friend was being interviewed online. You could see her kitchen behind her, the sound of a door opening and closing, her husband walking through the frame on his way to another room. It was a view into the private space of her home. Yet she wore bright red lipstick and spoke in a very public way like we were in an auditorium and there were a hundred people listening. But in her virtual box, the audience was invisible. It was just my filmmaker friend in her kitchen and a young, foreign interviewer sitting against a blank, white wall in a different a part of the world, having a conversation across time zones about personal subjectivity, maintaining creativity, and making a film without leaving your house.
The young woman interviewer said that the past is always contained in the present. Yes, my friend agreed, yes exactly—and when a film captures a moment that’s exactly what happens. The moment has passed but the film puts it in a perpetual present.
(Am I doing the same thing here—when I write about what’s no longer here— calling it back— one word in front of another, marching forward on the page but also moving backwards?)
My friend also said that film has a kind of materiality- and what I think she meant was that you take an idea and translate it through the material of the film itself. There’s the idea and then there’s the recording of that idea onto film—or some other digital thing that it is now. They become one.
(There’s the idea and then whatever it is that I’m writing. There’s the computer, the desk, the chair, the window, the bills and papers everywhere, these snacks I can’t stop eating…)
Has it been one hundred days since this all began?
I remember the things I should have done when I could have done them. The things I can no longer do. I obsess about the chances I’ve missed and that maybe my headache, the tightness in my chest is a sign that I’m getting the virus, that I caught it somehow, and the tiny devil grows in size to take up the whole room.
The air conditioner hums. I notice that the window shade has torn and wonder if there’s a way to get it fixed right now, but also that it doesn’t really matter.
There’s another helicopter humming overhead, observing the rooftops of buildings and houses where we live, looking for someone who’s escaped from somewhere, stalking enemies and taking secret photos of the garbage that’s been put out on the street– the materiality of our lives. But what exactly are they looking for?
We have to stop drinking wine every night.
Maybe that’s what’s feeding the exhaustion-‐ and the rage.
It begins with a conversation at the dinner table-‐ always at the table, near the food.
His fist comes down and the wooden table shifts. Plates shake and a few black beans fly, a glass of water and the last sip of wine spills everywhere.
Fuck this shit, he says.
I scream back at him, louder than I mean to, YOU’RE A PSYCHO!
Then I get up from the chair, put my shoes on and walk out the front door-‐ there are no more words.
Walking into the hot night air and empty, dark streets-‐ not another soul out there.
It doesn’t matter what it was about-‐ what started it before the fist came down-‐ who can even remember.
The past is in the present.
You once told me: when you were about 8 years old, your father broke the front door down one night after your mother had locked him out of the house. She told the boys- you and your brothers- to get down on the floor and crawl to a place under the furniture, and then she went and called the police. You said you went under the couch and couldn’t stop giggling. The police came and arrested your father as he was pacing back and forth, back and forth outside the house on the overgrown lawn.
Another time, your father stormed into your parents’ bedroom and in a rage, pulled your mother off the bed. She was pregnant with your younger brother and clutched her stomach fearing for the baby’s life, she said, more than her own.
Each of us contains each of them.
I recently decided to take an introductory course in psychoanalytic theory and the instructor spoke with a very thick, unidentifiable accent. She wore soft leather shoes and rested her elegant handbag against the legs of the chair. She said that our psyches are completely formed by the time we’re two years old. The mother or primary caregiver is responsible for the development of the ego, for the sense of the self. Everything happens before we can speak, before language gives the child thoughts or feelings; a representative materiality.
I remember when I was nursing our second baby and I felt so completely exhausted. She was growing and wanted to nurse all the time. I’d brought her into bed with us so that when she cried, I could just put her on my breast and drift back to sleep. But I would also feel something like annoyance or frustration when she woke me, but also guilty that I felt annoyed, and I’d sit up and lean against the wall, take her in my arms, and quickly try to attach her to my breast.
One night, I woke up with our infant baby next to me, lying on her side and staring up at me. She was hungry, always hungry, and wanted me to feed her. We just looked at one another like that for a moment, not moving and suddenly she said in an absolutely clear voice,
I’m sorry mommy.
Were those her first words?
She was only 3 or 4 months old. She could not have been speaking. I must’ve been dreaming. That was years ago now.
Our entire past is in every present moment.
Lately when I can’t sleep, I remember my mother at the end, lying in her bed. No longer able to speak. Language had left her. I put another shot of morphine-‐ or whatever it was-‐ into the inside of her cheek. Her eyes were open and she looked at me.
There was nothing left to say. But she was still there. And I am here.
(The moonlight comes through the tear in the shade and I close my eyes, looking for sleep.)
On the last night of the class, the psychoanalytic theory instructor poses a riddle:
Why do people want to study psychoanalysis?
So that they can cure themselves, one student answers.
No, the instructor replies. It is so they can cure their mothers.
(The last 100 days– everything that’s ever happened to me—to you– us– suddenly rushes through the tear in the window shade, onto the bed and into the sheets, crawling inside of me, material and real.)
Lizzie Olesker is a Brooklyn, NY based writer, theater-maker, and recent collaborative filmmaker whose work explores the poetry of everyday experience. She teaches at the New School and NYU, where she’s also an organizer/rep with her adjunct faculty union, UAW Local 7902.
Art: Falling #6, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter. Twitter: @frede_kenter. IG: r.f.k.vispocityshuffle.