Finding a way home in the liminal space: A reflection on the making of Meet Me Here during my residency at Clarence Mews
From August 29th – September 2nd 2022, I participated in an intense 7-day residency at Clarence Mews Space: a cloistered haven nestled in Hackney Central. I spent 3 – 4 hours in the space every day, alone, steadily working towards (more like working through) the act of whittling broad themes of time, distance, binaries, and home into snippets of my life, my thoughts, my feelings. My companion for this week was Mar’s book Getting to Center*, and as most things happen in life, I read the book exactly when I needed to. This was my first time making a new solo work since 2017 and my first time making any movement work (excluding music videos) since 2019. I’ve finally found ways to manage Long-Covid symptoms (POTS, fatigue, and chronic pain), but I hadn’t yet tested my mind and body within the solo making process. I knew I was stepping into an experience that should be familiar, but would be completely different due to what I’ve been through in the past 3 years. Hell, the past 5 years, the past lifetime ( a lot came up). Part of my residency proposal read:
I plan to use my research period at Clarence Mews conducting a multi-disciplinary exploration of time, distance, binaries, and our attempts to measure the chaos. I do not expect to have a completely finished product by the end of the week; this residency will greatly assist me in finally taking the first step to clearing my mind of all my ideas, pouring them into a space where they can be spread out, dissected, and reconstructed.”
Now. I had expected to explore these themes through the abstraction of Ann Carson’s lyrical, queer re-telling of the myth of Geryon in her books The Autobiography of Red and Red Doc >; however, like Getting to Center, Carson’s work ended up being a hand to hold while I reflected on my own life, which felt parallel to Geryon’s as well as to Mar’s quest of “always getting back on the beam.”
I have to move to understand things and regulate my emotions. Call it a neurodivergence tendency, adhd, or an anxious habit, call it whatever you’d like (it's been called all these things and more). It’s just how I am. And I’m so lucky to know that movement is what I need, because some people spend an entire lifetime trying to figure out why they don’t understand things or why they feel so off (center*). My theory, led and developed and supported by so many psychologists, sociologists, community organizers, movement practitioners, and so on, is that we’d all feel better if we spent more time building our interoception (internal awareness) by moving our bodies, communally and alone. But I digress. I know what I need, and thank god for that. I so often forget it though and Covid sent my movement need farther out the window than it’s ever gone. Suddenly, I needed rest, limited movement—I’m talking take a break halfway up your 10 steps stairwell—and it broke me. But then it showed me that the things that are best for us can also become a distraction. While the frustration and grief around new physiological symptoms kept popping up every day, so did an incredible amount of shit that I thought I’d processed already. Or shit that I thought I was better than—ie. yes, I know I was brought up in a country that force feeds workaholism and pits the lower classes against each other so we all forget about the real evils of our white supremacist, patriarchal, cis-heteronormative societal structure, but I’M aware of it and I’M smart enough to not be taken down by it. Ohhh, but taken down I was. HARD. Without the ability to work or do things that brought me joy (movement fulfilling both those things) for so long, all I had was the ability to think (and even that was hard due to the brain fog). So for about 3 years I’ve been sifting through shit. All of it. Scribbling on papers and notebooks and reciting disjointed memories and thoughts to my therapist about things I never thought hurt me but obviously smothered me. Things that my body held tight to and my brain hadn't yet had time to transcribe.
And that leads me back round to the residency. THE TERROR of facing it all in one space. THE EXCITEMENT to understand Kayla in all parts of their life and soothe them along the way, especially as they learn that their body can’t do what it used to do. But maybe it never wanted to do what it did in the first place. THE RELIEF to hear my own voice in a place typically reserved for movement, knowing that I have not/will not, ever been/be the person who only dances**; I am the person who has to bring all parts of themselves together in their art to be seen and heard by themselves and others.
So the residency process got messy. It wasn’t linear, in fact most of the piece included that fact that nothing is linear. I had many moments of slipping into a “producing movement” zone, which only led to heartache and confusion as I tried to compose some grand choreography that essentially meant nothing and didn’t look pretty by the now unattainable standards I was trained in. It was the moments in which I let myself eat an apple on the balcony while reading, writing, or simply staring into space and listening that I realized every bit of “material” was already there. I have been gathering what I wanted to “say,” in whatever format I desired to do so (there were many), for an extensive amount of time and all I needed to do was look at it all to put the puzzle together. It wasn’t that simple, and the puzzle isn't finished, but that was the gist.
I looked at my roots and why at times they felt severed regardless of where I was geographically. I realized that I spent a lot of my life pretending I wasn’t a Floridian because of what that tends to connote to the rest of the world: a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, redneck, bible thumping life. Those things exist big time in Florida, and they certainly made me small until I had the privilege to physically leave (I’m really not sure that I would have ever tuned into my fluid sexuality/gender without the knowledge that I’d be leaving the United States in 2017), but I also know that there are so many things (things being people especially) about Florida that I love—no, that are PART OF ME FOREVER AND I LOVE THAT. I'd been leaving too much behind, well before I left the country. This residency was about coming home to myself. All parts of myself. And so much of that was/is/will always be Florida. I’m trying to not to leave anything behind anymore, in myself, in my art, in the way I talk to folks. It’s going to be a long journey, a lifelong one—thus, a long one, I hope.
The piece is nowhere near finished, nor is it ready to be “premiered,” but I was lucky to have a community of loved ones (and surprisingly, another Floridian, who I hope to know deeper) gather on the last day of the residency for a showing. I’ve attached some beautiful feedback below that reminded me how important it is to share our art. No matter how personal it seems, our art in the end will always be for others. Or mine will at least.
Please also enjoy some photos and a rehearsal recording of one section, Florida Gothic here: https://youtu.be/ApoAzbX7ru4
This section was inspired by Jonah Goldman Kay’s article of the same name***. I had a reflective writing session after reading it, which I then voice recorded for the following movement work. The other audio includes a Florida rainstorm and a treasured sound recording of our backyard that my mom sent. You can find a transcript of my spoken words from the reflective writing session below****. The rehearsal was filmed by my beloved, Xavier Singer-Kingsmith.
* You can find Mar’s book here: http://marleegrace.space/books along with all their other amazing work
** “only dances” is not meant to be derogatory. I’m a person who needs to access other forms of expression as well and for a long time I felt there was no way to bring all of my art-forms together. It's important to keep reminding myself that I need to do so.
*** Florida Gothic article: https://bittersoutherner.com/feature/2022/florida-gothic
**** Recording Transcript:
I love that Floridians all have the same house style, Florida. It doesn’t matter how far inland you live and if your next door neighbor raises chickens, weed, or alligators, we all have one if not many quintessentially kitschy Floridian items: a basket of shells, flamingos in the front yard, or sun bleached sand dollars that children are later horrified to learn that they technically murdered with their tiny child hands for home decor.
It kind of feels like the land of no parents. And that doesn’t equate to bad parents. I just hardly have any memories in the presence of adults. I grew up inland, about as centered and landlocked as you can get on the peninsula, where writer Jonah Goldman Kay astutely comments “the brightness of the colors masks the poverty that’s behind it.” Jonah grew up in Orlando, I’m from a small town that you’d call Orlando – adjacent, and he supposedly lives in London now. I stalked his Instagram and he looks about my age, I should reach out, it’s not unlikely that our lives intersect outside of our migration to London. That’s just how Florida works. I wonder if he too feels like he was partly raised by the feral children speckled over the natural landscape he also describes as stuck in between collapse and rapid development. Children in now adult bodies that he, like me, flocks to when returning to our state; because home will always feel rough and wild and beautifully mundane with an undercurrent of danger that calls for the support of your rough and wild and weird pals late into the night.
I grew up in the same town where my dad grew up. And I often think about the parallels that must exist between our childhood regarding experiences but also physical place. Some things always keep looping. If we both drew realistic maps, and I know we could, the year might be impossible to tell. Our town, cemented in a cycle of mending as it crumbles. But he does realistically joke that our house will only go up in value as our shores disappear further into the ocean, making climate migrants of all the snow birds. How did our family know the future, that Florida was never about the beaches, that safety was a once affordable bungalow nestled inward where outsiders like writer Lauren Groff feel that “everything wants to kill you.” She’s not wrong, but the gator will also just happily sit in the road, maybe taking a few playful nips at your car tires. And the Florida panther rummaging through your garbage just wants you to see that you’ve also forced it from its home on the outskirts of the land. And yeah, my town might be the lightning capital of the world, but simply stay inside and respect the storm. It will be done in 10 minutes anyways. And as my mom would say, “don’t die stupid!”