Excerpt from Oscar of Between, Part 12A
March 2009. Oscar sipping her Emerald Silver Green morning tea, gazes at backyard tree’s Matisse-like limbs against fresh blue. Oscar. Waiting for Oscar. Having worked on writing the final essay for Breathing the Page all week. Oscar. Wondering, would Oscar appear here? Here being Montreal. In all this difference where she finds most affinity with other writers. Oscar sensing Oscar nearing for three days now — trying to elbow out more space. Across adjacent backyard, “brassiere woman” torques down spiral staircase as Oscar tries to decipher her age. Yesterday, Oscar noted her methodic pinning of six halter-like brassieres on frigid clothesline. Oscar surprisingly prudish about display of private self. Yet, admiring nonchalant quotidian self assuming collective self. History. Others’ rows of.
Oscar now recalling her mother’s adamant instructions on where to hang underpants and brassieres. Without fail. Pin them up between bed sheets hung on adjacent lines. Prevent view of by occupants in passing cars.
In the Midwest, no flags of femininity ever raised.
When adult and urban, Oscar began to realize how transparent rural life was. The state of a farmer’s fields, car, lawn, house, garden, his and his family’s clothes, livestock all on display.
During family Sunday afternoon drives to “see how the fields are doing,” her father’s verbal and body language a platform for assessing other farmers’ successes and shortcomings in management: proper living.
In the city, display becomes manipulation of impressions. A businessman teetering on bankruptcy can still fool his friends, the bank, even his family. Wear stylish clothes, drive an impressive car, invent “junk stocks.”
Camouflage the foundation for runaway credit.
Dinner with Verena. Talking about our writing projects. Verena finishing manuscript of interviews with four elderly men and women who left, or fled, Germany: eventually ended up in Montreal. How three out of four of them only recently began speaking German. All those decades of not. The shame, even danger of it.
Ache of empty arms of language. To be held — again — in its tender embrace.
Oscar speaks briefly of this manuscript: about betweenness; use of one fictive device; impact of WWI invention of camouflage — how it has infiltrated all aspects of public and private life.
Verena, bewildered, asks: “How?”
Oscar cites governance, examples how U.S. citizens abandoned their right to be told the truth decades ago, settled for what only sounds believable.
Verena, an aware woman, replies: “Oh…”
Later Oscar thinks — context. How it can no longer be assumed; how this has become a pervasive problem in the western world; how she needed to establish the context for her thinking more — should have cited corporate marketing, how it is prevaricated on half-truths and lies. Cited the tampering with images using Photoshop to suit. Cited the altering of our bodies with Botox, plastic surgery, make-overs, ever increasing array of anti-aging and cover-up products. Cited virtual relationships replacing actual ones. Cited how scientific and economic data about environmental breakdown, global market schemes, profitability of cancer routinely manipulated, “massaged” into camouflaged jargon. Spins & pitches. Out of context stats.
The insatiable bottom line — dependent on this.
Unable to do it. Oscar just now hanging out her laundry. Stops. Stares. At the final items in the basket. Her underwear.
Rationalizes. They’ll dry better inside. Wonders. Is this some kind of rare intimacy Oscar still shares with her mother? X-pose. Oscar’s hanging out of her underwear is not the same as the other women on Plateau Mont-Royal.
Oscar’s would be scrutinized.
Later, Oscar realizes that the gay guy’s underwear (who lives below) has also been absent from his clothesline.
Membership not to be assumed.
Cecily at Talon Books
Cecily on YouTube
demonstration parcels bought and sold repeatedly
as the record shows stolen
light comes up over the southeast bridges
with no understanding or nearness, normative, quieted
that a place told you it was bleeding into the snow
cold seeped to bone cut from born with no languages
storage pits a cache from the hanging lot for crows
no feet in trees no limbs swing free as land sounds
lean into rain and dark of winter the growing tips “see”
light causing seedlings to bend toward the source
Development Group pleased to present square feet of brand
new logistics facilities for port-related business
around with a view of innocuous
property description in efficient layout
attached plans or contact us for further information
property features (business park) premium quality
insulated tilt-up concrete construction, sprinkler system
dock level loading equipped with dock bumpers
hydraulic dock levellers and seals, grade level loading
26′ + ceiling heights, efficient lighting and ample skylights
endowed by forces of nature force such as a forest fire
darkened except for single while clouds out stack
bowed out steam system evaporation microanatomy
over adhesion cell walls end to end fibre forms
under the niddle of machine streams silver blue roofs
the upper tacking texture lines cracked patterns
floor of the dry river trains tracing along side
nation majorities minorities pauseless property idyllic
bungalow with maid mattering sense of unshakeable security
picking berries on the side of the road assertion of sovereignty
courting ear infections swimming splash skivvies or nothing
downstream and upstream from sewage treatment runoff
new kinds of old kinds I grew up with crop dusters. flew over
and after children ran waving hoping they would wave back
sometimes they did dip their wings side to side a communiqué
like truck drivers nearby highways break-through sound tracks
them all farmers with chemical ponds worked through the night
during harvest others of bush shack tries to tried to tear at meaning
like it was theirs. come and gone unnoticed naturalized disposability
unequally precarious shipping nestled down at the mouth of the basin
it is a heavy industry district under comprehensive development
star crescent off lorry road slick stagnant wood star shipyards rotten
brilliant greens in ditch water against straw-coloured embankments
holly hocks invasive spatter coral red as iron flakes anchor
wood grain metal were you to touch it to have touched the riverbed
while lingcod feet from what millennium sand from the long basin
leaving ever to the sea trading post logistics letters never return
plaques on red velvet upholstering the luxurious role of textual radicalism
“Big Crowd Sees Columbus II Take the Water Gracefully At Dawes Ways”
land title system also in the water harbour
hereabout log boom shore called lot
lease cordon houses built on
centres of Irvings new acts
bureaucrats attach through paper
three reserves a hospital paternal atonal
department of wild cemetery affairs first
World War firms southern portion
Alaska Pine record system heyday
back when world globalized workers
proud soldiers at thirty dollars north arm
draft densely poplar rhizome ones a type
swifts stir a swallow convergent evolution
reflecting similar life styles
based on catching insects in flight
means without feet never settles
voluntarily on the ground
will cling to vertical surfaces
spaces of impermanence
gentle tectonic heaving
did anyone take you under their wings?
wings and wings and wings and vertical
in bracken nodes cane-grazed riparian trees
As I was reading the excerpts, two things immediately occurred. The first was a memory. It surfaced as I came across the section in Oscar about who does and who does not hang underwear in a place others can see.
Memory: The first time I sweat with a group of (mostly) white women I found myself worried about what eye codes they would use. What, for example, would they agree not to see, where would they agree not to place their eyes, and would I be able to hold my anger if those codes broke violently against my own?
The body scribes polite behaviour; the group patrols its own sets of body codes, enforces them in a variety of ways. In homogeneous groups this is extremely efficient and inculcates a sense of belonging and safety that floats the general stock of happiness.
In heterogeneous groups this system must be modified if we are to make an effort at inclusiveness. Modification of politeness codes is often a problem, since most of us are unaware of the stares (and gestures, and postures, etc) we offer the do-not-seem-the-same. Internally we may just register a mild curiosity, and so be unaware that we have transgressed another person’s comfort.
That same curiosity in our own group would be either automatically masked (the mind working furiously but the face betraying nothing) or expressed in a way that makes use of our deep awareness of our group dynamic. At a funeral, for example, “why is she here” is not something we would normally accomplish by a direct, even challenging, stare, but rather by a behind-the hand whispered aside. I doubt whether in the moment of curiosity it occurs to us that it is a really very rude thing to be asking (even of only our partner) and almost certainly none of our damn business. But we feel the question in the tingle along our arms, so we deal with the feeling in a way that acknowledges the question while still not endangering our acceptance in the group. We whisper, glance, watch the weeping spouse for a reaction, all the time keeping our actions below the group’s agreed tolerance level.
What do you do when all of those “normal” ways of dealing with “mild curiosity” are either the equivalent of 1) throwing food at a wake or 2) asking the grieving spouse if the dead partner’s affair was yet public knowledge?
Normally what we do is follow the feeling, not intending to be rude, but because we are unaware of the “agreements” we have made about what it is to be polite, and the fact that these “agreements” don’t necessarily hold outside our reference group, we don’t stop ourselves from acting. In that moment of following the feeling, we can cause enormous pain.
Most of us never set out to be rude, and yet our ignorance of other codes in our heterogeneous society amounts to the same. Ignorance is never bliss when it is (unintentionally or not) aimed at the Other.
My second reaction came when reading Cecily Nicholson’s poetry. I have to say that my reaction made me laugh. How powerful this collage technique can be! Coming from the section on “missing” undergarments, then coming into the “missing” narrative of Nicholson’s work, I found myself reading each line as a wind-jerked t-shirt, dress, pair of trousers, towel. And the narrative as the underwear.
Track that metaphor if you please. Is narrative our “foundational garment”?
Betsey, friends, fans, fellow artists, I thank you for this amazing adventure into a new form of self-expression. I have been following it avidly, though posting rarely, perhaps inhibited by the ballerina-like soaring of your thoughts and words. Though we all know that years of training, devotion to craft, and hidden strength underlie those slender forms that flit across the stage and our consciousness, still we are transported by their magic. As I have been by yours.
Hanging out our clean laundry is as difficult as exposing our dirty laundry. Where is the nimbus of self and other. There has lately been a lot of fog extending from northern BC to Oregon daily – so many on social media write daily about an eerie comfort.
Nicholson’s farm toxicity resonated but I must say the Bra Lady of Montreal stole the scene. I am mesmerized by hanging laundry, laundromats, the colourfulness of laundry piles, the sorters vs. the non-sorters and all things that have been next to the skin.
~ aside ~ My first sight of size large boxer shorts hanging on a friends line have still created a mystery for me – how her husband could look neat and trim in his Dr’s whites with those huge baggy things under. It occurred to me that they’d be better under a dress and that men should wear the thong things women have taken to 😉
No shortage of material to discuss here. This is what hit me:
Later Oscar thinks — context. How it can no longer be assumed; how this has become a pervasive problem in the western world; how she needed to establish the context for her thinking more.
In her poems Cecily seems to be dealing with a landslide of modern
“it is a heavy industry district under comprehensive development
star crescent off lorry road slick stagnant wood star shipyards rotten
brilliant greens in ditch water against straw-coloured embankments”
Here, context pours over us, buries us.
Sometimes those of us who live in our heads a lot forget to include context.
I am a writer who wants to be understood. I respect my audience. Still I’m resistant to provide too much context, don’t always realize just how resistant until after the fact. When misunderstandings develop.
Sometimes, when working with other creatives, big misunderstandings develop.
Do we want to be figured out, a little? Do we want our mysteries Googled?
Or are we reacting to a glut of unnecessary context? Do we really want to be read without any work on the part of the reader?
Are we building a mystique, purposely leaving an insufficient trail of breadcrumbs?
Is empty space is harder to traverse than clutter? More intimidating?
I know Oscar wants to be reached.
Membership not to be assumed. Membership never to be assumed in our bully society. Generations of immigrants hissing accentedly at their children: “Speak English.” Become “real” Americans, or as canadianly WASP as feasible unless scarred by colour. Dirty “Indians” speaking their filthy native tongue. Dirty outsiders, banned from our “restricted” hotels and beaches, lest they pollute the very great lakes themselves with their “foreign-ness.” The dirtyness of “down there” to be hidden between the white sheets flying as flags of cleanliness and entitlement and belonging.
thanks helen for thanking us all for showing up in one way or another at this unusual event – oscar salon –
contiguous i think reading oscar flagging manipulation of impressions and
cecily nicholson the luxurious role of textual radicalism
how apropos and inviting this virtual space of impermanence
it challenges me to see more deeply and widely
Carleigh, me too, about context. So, then, also, others carry their own context around…err: their own life. They bring this to you as audience. Too little context of our own and they don’t respond at all; too much and they, what? Aren’t interested: no room for their context. Hybridization?
PS- Underwear is funny!!! 🙂
Thank you for the read!
Just back from a writing retreat in Toronto where I wrote Oscar of Between, Part 33. Today I’ve been revising my December post, Part 13, (2009). Navigating the narrative and consciousness arcs between 2009 and November 2013; between Part 13 and Part 33 is intriguing, and sometime dizzying. In your provocative comments, various aspects of context are considered, as they are also intensely considered and questioned in Cecily’s poems. The etymology of context is: com-, together + texere, to join weave, plait.” The root of texere is teks-. Context shares this root with text, tissue, and pretext. At this very moment, when Oscar looks up pretext she discovers it’s derived from “praetexere, to weave in front, cloak, disguise, pretend.” Here we are again = camouflage! Pretext posing as context: Harper. Ford. The desire we share in this salon is for language to illuminate.
“To be held again in the tender embrace of language.” This week, Betsey, I re-read your words from another perspective as I sought desperately to understand the emotional impact of seeing “Letters From The Lost” published in German, the language of those who sought to wipe me and all my kin from the face of the earth. A strange phenomenon, to hold in my hand a book that bears my photo, yet seems to be an alien object, written by someone I scarcely know even though every line of the content is familiar to me. The essence of language is so ephemeral that there i no way to hold it in one’s grasp. You, my fellow writers, will understand its endless fascination, its infinite complexity, and the mysterious vibrations that it calls forth within each of us.