by Caridad Svich
[these letters are undated, but were sent together on 27 May 2018]
You ask me how I am doing these days. It is strange to talk about the wellness of things because the world is so, so fucked. But even so… thank you for asking, and yes, despite all, it seems, I am well. The heat of summer has appropriately descended, and where even as little as a week ago I was complaining about an unseasonable chill in the air, now my gripes focus on the humidity and the general level of pollution that is inescapable even when seated indoors basking in the mid waft of general air conditioning.
I promised to get back to you about clocks, when really what I meant to say was that the passage of time makes me think about mortality. It is a subject with which writers are well acquainted. After all, we spend most of our lives making things to combat it. The feverish dance of art is always poised between being here and being some other where – namely, in the future. Chasing immortality is our game, even when we do our best to pretend otherwise.
I live by the clock although I would rather not. I wonder sometimes what would happen if we said no to clocks for a while and organized our lives outside of the societal forces that either impose or grant us the structures of a nine to five or 24/7 work-to-leisure-to-work day. I dream sometimes about being in the woods, isolated in some pristine cabin (although equipped with a marvellous espresso machine, of course. I am loath to give up my bougie things, because, well, I’m not sure what I would do without…) and simply waking up and going to bed to the rhythm of my own internal clock, and not mattering much about society’s dictates.
But as soon as I think about this, my thoughts turn back to that time before I knew you, when I stayed in that cabin on that island in the Pacific Northwest, and I thought I was really going to be inspired by living out some sort of Thoreau-esque writing experiment – I was so, so ready, too! – but all I did was dream about having a real en-suite shower and bath, reliable wi-fi, and not having to climb up a ladder every night to get to my bed. Yes, there were llamas, and yes, there were eagles, and yes, the ocean was sort of right there, if you walked a few hundred miles down the very lonely stretch of road lined with ridiculously upscale “rustic” cottages. But I was roaring with anxiety back then, at the cusp of the digital age, and I desired a life by the clock more than anything else. So, really, this little dream of being in some idyll in the woods is just that.
I know you perhaps thought it’d be the answer.
I know I owe you a letter. I owe you probably several hundred by now. So much is happening, and yet, it’s hard to quantify it. Some days I wake up and everything seems possible. Others, I feel as if I must figure out how to reinvent the wheel all over again. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. I’m sure you have felt like this, perhaps much more so than I, because I read the little book you sent me last year – the one you wrote, the one you didn’t know what to do with – and it just brought everything back. Everything. The ways in which we care for one another, the ways in which societies are rarely built for care these days, and how affinities tend to be drawn along rather strict ideological and political lines when really, aren’t things much mushier and more complicated and more fluid and less easy to categorize than what the net-sphere seems to prize?
I read your book and was reminded again of that performance, the one we both talked about. The one I think we are still talking about a year later. And of course, because clocks are the issue here, isn’t it interesting how performances stay in the mind? How that thing that is no longer remains or can remain with us, in our consciousness, if it has any resonant force at all? And isn’t it crazy that we are still angry about it somehow? That that same pain and anger surfaces when we think about it, even though it was just a show. Y’know?
I have been thinking a lot about that performance by those artists we both admire in different ways, because a year ago at this time I was in your city, when it was blistering hot and unlike itself, and the #metoo movement wasn’t even around, and thinking about post-feminist feminist theatre was a rather interesting thing to consider, and articulated rage of, shall we say, a more studied, middle-class order was worth more than one conversation over tea and biscotti.
But hang on – was it middle-class feminist rage at all? Or just sheer rage at all things patriarchal that we had on our minds? And did we talk then about how even women can make patriarchal work?
Maybe I imagined the latter half of our conversation. I do that sometimes, because, in the world of clocks, I talk to you even when we are not talking. I talk to you when I am writing – like now – and sometimes when I am walking through a museum or watching a new film or scrolling on twitter and happen to catch the “best quote ever” that I must retweet your way.
And I imagine too that you may be having all sorts of imaginary conversations with me, even if we only met that one time in person, because our virtual lives seem to co-exist in some kindred plane of shimmering wonderment, where even our shared rage at things is anchored by love.
Yesterday I was sorting through my books. I have so many of them. Too many. I have been thinking about the amount of paper I still have and how ever will I rid myself of it all. My former mentor is very ill. Has been for many years now. I remember her apartment being littered with papers. And I don’t want to have that kind of life. But then, you know… because I am sure you do this too… I came across a book by someone we both know (you know them far better than I, but I feel as if I know them from their books) and I found myself re-reading it again, because it was/is all about damaging, systemic patriarchal structures and how many cis-het and even non-cis-het men are caught in them, almost irrevocably. And I thought, as many of our favorite smart ones have taught us since the dawn of queer phenomenology, gender trouble and feminist escriture, that we need to own up to our own complicity in these systems, our own ability to enact damage upon others in similar ways that have to do with abuses of power and a lack of caring and love, and our own unbounded-ness too to “named” structures. Because as soon as we name something – as soon as we name desire one thing and one thing only – aren’t we just saying it can/not be something else?
If you had seen me yesterday standing near my faux book-shelf pouring over our mutual friend’s text, written some years ago, although it also feels like yesterday somehow, I wonder how you might have laughed and thought me maybe a bit foolish for cherishing my favorite books so much – which makes me think, how is it that over time (since this is what we are talking about here), some pieces of art become our favorites and some fall by the wayside?
Just this morning I was asked by a colleague which film won the 2018 Academy Award and you know, even though I admired it, the title wouldn’t come to me, but the first film I thought of instead was Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” because it breaks my heart every time, and then I started to think of this film from 1972 called “Tomorrow.” Do you know it? It’s an adaptation by the late, very great and somewhat under-sung Horton Foote of a William Faulkner short story and it starred a young Robert Duvall, and OMG, right? Talk about an actor just being on camera, just listening. Not “doing” anything but doing everything. Suddenly, I was thinking about how actors leave a piece of themselves on film – a time in their lives – another clock, as it were – and how strange it is to encounter old and young versions of a performer and to trace who they were and who they have become, and how even years from now, someone could “discover” an actor’s body of work and have no real context at all, but still somehow be moved by what someone in a rehearsal hall one day did and what in an editing room much later someone else, usually not the actor, constructed out of a series of takes.
I am confounded by text and performance. I forget that sometimes. But it is this confounding and its simultaneous wrestling with time that I return to over and again. Working against the clock of theatre, working against it and toward something else.
You are probably wondering what time it is and whether I am even going to make this deadline. There’s an opera on the telly, and I am re-reading some Hélène Cixous, because I wonder why people don’t seem to read her works as much these days, when at one time, wasn’t it all the rage?
I am thinking a lot about rage. And not just the kind we talked about last year, the one we are still talking about, but another kind of rage, one that has to do with validation and consequence. It seems to me, that the default position of empowerment for many women, to speak in a gendered way for a moment, is balls-out rage, or should I say vulva-out rage, and how whilst rage has its usefulness as a tool for change, it can also just stop… at… rage. Like a fast and furious punk song played full-throttle.
I am getting tired of rage as THE expression of female-ness and I am looking for something else. Something that does not exist only in reaction to patriarchy (and therefore, reinscribes it by doing so) or in reaction to neo-liberal, market-driven capitalism, or failed democracies or racism, sexism, colonialism, and all else that diminishes, other-izes, and reduces the complexity and humanity of the self against itself instead of being in harmony with nature and animals and the planet.
Because, you see, if we are to talk about time, and that is what we talk about when we speak of clocks, we have little of it left. And how exactly do we want to spend the time we have on this damaged earth? In what endeavours will we invest our spiritual and emotional labour?
I am writing this to you, because maybe we can think about this. And maybe even do a little something, like you are doing now, in your room, miles away, at some other hour. And maybe, if we are lucky enough to survive our lives of absurdly precarious austerity, find a little time.
Caridad Svich is a text-builder and theatre-maker. She received a 2018 Tanne Foundation Award, the 2012 OBIE for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, and was 2017-2018 Visiting Research Fellow at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her plays include JARMAN (all this maddening beauty) and The Hour of All Things published by Intellect Books Ltd. She is associate editor of Contemporary Theatre Review for Routledge UK and contributing editor of TheatreForum. Visit her at www.caridadsvich.com