My anxiety dreams are of water. Last night I swam laps in a cool, dark pool. The room is cavernous and shadowy. The door is open and someone is standing at the entrance, backlit. I tread water, gaze in the direction of the light for several seconds. Then dive back down and resume my work.
In the place to which my mind wanders, it has rained for days. The town ties baffles from straw bundles and drops them in the street where they sit atop sewer grates like the fat cocoons of an unrecognizable species.
On some days, I wander the streets taking photographs of church spires and cloud formations.
And on others: a bird fallen from its nest, a yellow ball deflating on the sidewalk, a single sock left forgotten and waterlogged in the street.
Returning, even in memory, exacts its costs. For days after, thoughts rise unbidden. Who is standing at the entrance to the pool? What happens to a bird with a broken wing?
In the photograph, the woman sits on a chair, her legs spread open. Behind the chair, a drawing of chairs. Behind her, squares of white light.
The woman is naked. Her head is titled downward and her long hair spills in front of her, obscuring her face. She holds a drawing in front of her, between her open legs. A representation of her – her hair, her naked belly. She wears a ring on the index finger of her left hand. It is a coiled snake.
What she puts between us – between her body and our gaze on it – is a representation of herself – rendered flat and known.
(Once a man said to me: The excitement is in not knowing how this is going to end.)
The problem is of desire. An image of me is not me but it approximates.
Memory as a child, riding home from a long journey: It is night. There is a white moon high in the sky, a ring of cloud around it. We are lost. We are approaching a toll booth, but there is no one there. A gate swinging open. A sense of dread. Do we pass through?
Memory as a child, waking in the night in an unfamiliar room: The shadow of a man standing in the doorway. I dare not move. The shadow passes. What trick of unkind light?
A faceless woman sits naked in a chair. A woman who is me but not me swims laps in a cool dark pool. A bird falls from its nest and injures its wing. To what thresholds of memory do we return and at what costs do we make passage?
In formal terms: almost a perfect square. The symmetry of open knees and the symmetry of bent elbows. The background: top half is white – white walls, white light; and the bottom is dark – floor and shadow.
The chairs in the photograph are straight-backed and wooden. One chair in the foreground. Another behind. The image of the woman and then the woman herself, holding an image of herself, and represented as if in an endless series of reproductions: one, and now another, and another.
As a recent exercise, I wrote for one hour each day for thirty days, using a different photograph of Francesca Woodman’s as a starting point. For the next thirty days, I am going back through these notes and attempting to re-work them. For fortitude, I look to Harry Mathews, who borrowed from Stendahl: “Twenty lines a day, genius or not.”