It was an honour to be invited to participate as guest editor for the evening (theme: mass/matter), so much of an honour that I actually said yes. Below is the editorial/mini essay I wrote for the occasion.
When Megan asked me to be guest editor for tonight’s edition of VERSO it was precisely my mass, my matter, the way other people might view that matter (how it moves, what it does), my idea of the things that matter, and the way other people might view my idea of the things that matter, that nearly stopped me.
However, sitting across from that rubble of awkward selfhood was the desire to leak out of my own corporeal limitations; a desire that was fidgeting and pleading and leaping about, and banging its impatient forks on the table. The desire to be a form of self not seen since childhood, a wild and cocky little thing that didn’t have the capacity to give a damn about what any of those other selves hanging around and watching it thought it was doing. A desire to become something else, formless and forever escaping, hovering like a fine film over the most precarious aspects of existence. And so I said yes.
VERSAL initially tried to get me to read my poetry, but I couldn’t do it. Haven’t done it. It didn’t matter: the opportunity. It wasn’t likely to matter in the overall version of events that my life would eventually form.
But perhaps that’s where I’m wrong. Maybe it is precisely these details that do matter, one forgotten memory stacked upon another that makes us into what we presently are, and what we presently are that stocks the future, determines what it is able to become. And so I said yes.
I moved to Amsterdam two-and-a-half years ago, ten days before the Brexit referendum, an act of relocation that felt like running along a path in a computer game and having the tiles fall away, burn up, or turn to dust behind me. I remember seeing one of those spoof newspaper articles at the time that said “Shock news: thousands of Britons realise they actually love their country.” And that felt very true, I was in love, and there were things I had taken for granted. For example, an ease of being in a space; a way of inhaling the fresh, damp air after the rain; feeling connected to the history of a savoury pie eaten out of a plain paper bag on a northern-bound train. It was the physicality of the landscape I was after, the self of the groundstuff, the traces of ancient hardships that lay low in the architecture―the context by which I had been shielded and into which I had grown. Waking up to the result of that referendum felt like something had abandoned me, or me it. The details were uncertain. It felt like the evaporation of a parent. Like looking away for a moment and then looking back to find out that everyone is gone. It felt like a deception, like the landscape wasn’t mine anymore, and like it never had been. Like something had been there all along murmuring under the surface. Something that I thought I understood but that had in hindsight never been a part of me.
When I found out I was pregnant, not long after the Brexit referendum, it felt like the landscape wasn’t mine anymore, like something had been there all along, murmuring under the surface. My body became something I thought I understood but that had in hindsight never been a part of me. It felt like a part of me had died and like a second part was steadily dying. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because a lot of people feel a lot of things about procreation―about wanting babies, not wanting babies, really wanting babies, having babies, not having babies, really not having babies, how you should have babies, how you should not have babies, and so on―but the way I saw it, from that side of the expansion, was that some unknown and unknowable event was lurching towards me, and its manifestations were showing up all over my body; rising out, bearing down.
And this unknowable event, irreversible and unstoppable, was, like various versions of death, a passing through, a sort of ritual, a test of endurance. The black hole that was forming inside my insides was gathering matter, was gaining momentum, and I was being sucked in and shrunken and replaced. Matter begets matter. I was physical, becoming more so. Various parts of my body on various days were taking on the properties of stone or lead. The internal world rather than the external was where things were taking place, was where the news was, the threat.
If we are lucky enough, we carry around our bodies without too much attention; we try not to march them into the moving traffic but, largely, we don’t live in fear of them, keeping a watchful eye over their every rumble.
As when approaching a black hole, time stretched out in the countdown to the birth, and nothing that I was able to directly comprehend or observe lay over the border. Months and then weeks and then days consumed the whole of the future. Despite the crowds of people likely to be enduring childbirth at the exact same moment I was, I was alone and inadequately prepared. There was, perhaps, a future―others had survived the fall, many had passed on their stories―but I wasn’t able to believe in it.
As when approaching a black hole, a part of me went through unscathed, floating for what seemed like lifetimes in the anonymous nothingness beyond. Until we were officially a mother and a daughter: two sacks of lack and muscle: a call and a response. As when approaching a black hole, a part of me remained scattered, motionless: stretched across the surface of the event horizon as a growing heat began to engulf me in flames.
Given enough time, the black hole will radiate away its mass, and vanish (the child will grow, the host will deflate). No energy is ever lost, and so all exertions eventually tend toward something other, toward something or other.
You are still who you were before, you are exactly who you were. But you are also something else entirely. You have been sawn in half and paraded across a stage in two wooden boxes, choreographically twirled around, and set in motion. Your two dancing halves have been clicked back together and the saw has been removed; the lights flick on and you stand up and there is no real proof that any of this ever happened. The baby slides to the ground like an animal, grows from the ground like a plant, iridesces like some rare mineral.
Matter: material discharged from the human body. Also: the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities.
Matter is our starting point; is all starting points.
Therefore: the banal, the trivial, the casual, the accidental … poetry, discussion, empathy, action, experiment, movement, music. It all acquires importance. It is the substratum of what we are able to become.