Near and Further Distance
1. reading gloria anzaldúa in the shopping mall
'Waard' is an old Dutch expression for a flat landscape within a river area.
Only the name of the shopping mall reveals that it's built on land that was once wet and muddy; the water itself has been long gone. The peatlands, with all their peculiarities - their unusual chemistry, their mosses and shrubs - and the large lake have been drained during the 17th century, transforming the landscape into a polder, a tight grid of farmland as far as the eye could see.
She looks around.
Some shops have disappeared or are rebranded.
The plaza in the middle used to have a patio with palm trees.
In this flattest of land, in this one-story shopping mall, surrounded by these polders, once palm trees had brightened up the newly built surroundings.
The trees are gone, but the indoor plaza is still there. She orders a coffee and places herself strategically, observing the passers-by. They haven't changed much at all, walking behind a stroller or shopping cart with no rush, with expressions of great comfort and of feeling at home, gliding past in an endless stream.
The shopping mall still functions as the centre of this town. They don't play the jingle anymore - the slogan she has heard so often, that without setting foot here for over a decade, she could hum it regardless.
'Middenwaard, meer dan het winkelen waard / Middle waard, worth more than shopping'
She was born on cosmonautics day, a few kilometers away from here.
She opens the dog-eared book she has been carrying around for a while. 'Light in the Dark / Luz en lo Oscuro' by Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa was written (and endlessly re-written) during the last decade of her life. Anzaldúa weaves all her thinking together on these pages, a thinking that sprouted from a mestiza experience, living in the borderlands between the US and Mexico, and that she developed into an intricate philosophy on re-writing identity, spirituality and reality. Her writing process is the space for making theory - where she is both observer and participant, and looks at herself as subject and object.
A recurring concept in Anzaldúa's writing is 'nepantla' which is a Nahuatl word meaning 'in the middle of it' or 'middle'.
Nepantla is no calm middle, no centre of comfort. Sure, it could be a physical space, but it's mostly a state of being, where, in Anzaldúa's words 'we hang out between shifts, trying to make rational sense of this crisis, seeking solace, support, appeasement, or some kind of intimate connection. En este lugar we fall into chaos, fear of the unknown and are forced to take up the task of self-redefinition.'
Muzak is playing.
She looks around.
She leaves a bottom of coffee in her cup to stay longer. And then she zooms in on the page again. In between the text sits an almost child-like drawing of a swirl; a 'remolino'. A swirl is not a calm centre.
Muzak is playing.
The drawing of the swirl sits on her lap, her index finger traces the line, carefully moving inwards.
All of a sudden she feels a rupture below her chair. It's a very discrete one, the shopping people surrounding her don't seem to notice - how cracks start to appear in the smooth grey tiles under her feet, how rubble slides over the floor when the ground bursts open.
She doesn't know if or when her feet will reach another ground. A ground that might be springy or bumpy or mossy or…
In the distance the sweet-sour smell of peat is lingering.
If you move your finger the other way, and trace the swirl outwards, you can make a similar move, but then go up.
Just try it.
Or: reduce, erase, mold, press a little bit harder, forget, look the other way, straighten this world into flatness as hard as you can.
You're already in it.
2. it starts with a crash
On bright days like these, she could spot the figure carrying a large sphere on his shoulders from the far distance. For long she had assumed the bronze sculpture - that oxidized into a jade green centuries ago - was suffering under the weight of the earth. Only recently she learned this figure depicts Atlas, who is carrying not a terrestrial globe but a celestial sphere, sentenced by Zeus to hold up the heavens for eternity.
An instant ago she was still sitting upright, taking in the familiar contours and daily rhythm of the city; the tram line, the crossroad, the backside of the palace with its globe sticking out in the sky, the pedestrians and stray pigeons…
Now the world was tilted, the horizon became vertical, her cheek brushed against the asphalt.
Let's slow down this moment, which didn't last much longer than a second.
The blow was like a cold shower. A snap of a finger to wake up from a haze.
It felt unsettling, while there was also a sense of relief. To physically undergo a crash affirmed the crash that had been present in her mind for a much longer time. This was clearly not a moment to smile, so instead her lips formed a smirk. The pleasure of saying 'I told you so' to yourself.
People rushed towards her, 'are you all right?' 'do you need help?' She had occasionally shouted similar phrases during the morning rush hour when a cyclist fell. And now she reacted just as she had seen others do: in denial. 'No thanks, I'm okay.' Her hands quickly checked her face, the skin of her cheek seemed fine.
It wasn't until she was about to move on, back on her feet, bicycle in hand, that she noticed the holes in her black stockings, and the blood.
Maybe just get plasters after all.
She finally showed up to the meeting, one of those rare appointments where it was completely fine to arrive with a bleeding knee, along with the clumsy choreography of holding the knee under the running tap and ripping a piece of tea towel into a bandage. Shared laughter as the result of the situation. Here there was no need to hide any wounds; the artist she was meeting preferred to share his own vulnerabilities in plain sight anyways, no editing.
The injured knee. It was no more than a mediocre incident. But now, with the wisdom of a year later, it was also a marker; of an end, and a beginning.
The year, this disastrous year, did not start on January 1st, 2020, but rather on the day of the fall.
(You're already in it)
Back then, she did not know who else had seen her knee that day.
And how something within had revealed itself.
3. a glass universe
How do the stars move?
The glass was cool but not cold. Something was brewing in the glass, small globules of air let the surface bubble. A copper red had broken into infinite particles. She knew that the copper was once a bullet. And that's why there was fire, something burning, something of heat. And that's why a square glass object – a tile, you might say – could become a talisman, glowing with potential.
Glow, and potential, were welcome at this moment. Within a few weeks, days of distance had become eerily habitual.
Sometimes there was talk of going back to normal.
Or arriving at a new normal.
But normal was a word that made her itchy, too reminiscent of the saying that circulated in the flat lands; 'act normal, that's crazy enough'.
The glass universe usually rested on an anthracite surface, and only then could you see the colors well, from a golden-orange core fanning out to the copper-red glow, until the light-grey edges of the square suddenly marked a border. When you held the tile up to the sunlight, not the color but the structure became more visible, a sea of small particles with condensation here and there. There was a nucleus, similar to the globular clusters of light years away, each containing hundreds of thousands of stars orbiting a galactic core. This compact universe was a portal to the faraway outside.
At the same time, this compact universe could also flatter against the skin. A glass plaster for a wounded knee, as a distraction from picking at scabs because time was abundant. Or, closer to the chest, she could hold the object against the washed cotton tie-dye t-shirt – brown and red stains, the glass could easily fall into it. A universe as a portal inwards.
How do the stars move?
Her hand stroked the cool surface of the glass universe.
Will you accept this gift?
They were lighthearted about saying goodbye, it wouldn't be long. Now it took days, weeks, months.
Glass had become a suspect material. Invisible crowns clung to its coolness unnoticed. A smooth surface underscored a constant need to clean.
But instead of further polishing the glass, she rubbed her dry hands – whose skin by now revealed its true landscape, showing an infinite amount of fine lines and branches, a delicate quilt – with baby oil. Greasy fingers left their mark.
4. a moment of call and response
There wasn't much collision these days, we all stayed carefully in orbit. Orbits that varied wildly in shape and size: near and further distance moved within the same constellation.
Near and further distance had found each other. They played around, in a continuous jam, back and forth and back again.
There wasn't much collision, but still: straight through faltering connections, lagging video calls, phone conversations full of background noise and hesitant outdoor meetups - mass and energy was exchanged.
And in this process some stars lit up. They got bigger, showing off a blue glow.
'What are you doing?'
'Oh nothing, I was watching a series.'
'Ah, what kind of series?'
'The most popular series in the universe, it is called: the ceiling.'
The outside pushed us inside.
And inside, we had to take care of our insides.
Insides were no tiny ponds, no way, there was a whole ocean to attend to.
An ocean of sandbanks that shifted slowly with the tides. Of seaweed that had turned into an impenetrable waving forest where only bright blue fish managed to slip through. An ocean full of thoughts that were so gracefully and at ease in the water as black sea nettle jellyfish, but did not survive once spoken out loud, reaching the surface, shrinking into helpless blobs in the sand. A sea of characteristics that had formed over many years, like generations of stony coral building a reef. And then there was the deep sea, of which we could only see a glimpse glittering in the distance; there the demonic fish with monstrous teeth were hiding, sharing the dark waters with some miraculous octopuses and mysterious bioluminescent creatures.
It was difficult to reach this ocean, maintenance of the path through the dunes had been neglected. But often the sea itself reached out, letting stuff wash up the shore, impossible to avoid. And during this beachcombing, this daily fishing, observing and tinkering around, occasionally a question could be asked again, as in a call, which was sometimes followed by a response, sometimes was the result of a response, and sometimes simply remained a call.
How do the stars move?
What was June Tyson thinking about when stepping out of bed each morning?
-We don't know much of her, except that her voice is a guiding light.
Sands do you have a tattoo of a small star on your shoulder, and if so, why?
-Yes, it's my wedding ring.
How does Maria feel about her new 'room of her own' in this moment of isolation?
-Pretty good, but she would prefer to exit her own feedback loop.
Are blue straggler stars really that interesting, or just extras filling up the lack of a better metaphor?
-They were extras, please delete.
Who else moves like this - in movement but in constant equal distance from each other - no collisions?
Why is the word for 'botsingen' in English and Spanish almost the same, collisions, colisiónes?
-Both stem from the late Latin collisionem; the act of dashing together.
Whose movement is closer to ours - a school of fish or a swarm of mosquitos?
What would Prince do?
-He would first take a moment, and then do all.
Where can I find the first traces of the word 'disaster'?
-In the second half of the 16th century in France, referring to an 'ill-starred event'.
Will you accept this gift?
What is Simone Weil's view on friendship and distance?
-They need each other.
Is friendship a gift?
Am I getting tired of myself?
Laraaji, what do I want (to know) from you?
-Nothing, but I will listen carefully.
5. from this flattest of land, I report
From this flattest of land, I report.
Hello? How is the connection?
I heard some glitches but it should be fine now.
From this flattest of land, I make a call.
Could you move a bit closer to the microphone?
From this flattest of land, I look around.
From my rijtjeshuis grid,
From the shopping mall with new extensions but the same background music playing,
From this country which partly lies below sea level
From this nation whose highest point is not here, but there, in the Caribbean, a sleeping volcano on the Island of Saba,
From these polders,
From this over-organized landscape - a sign explaining your surroundings with every step you go,
From this stubborn people who seem to believe it will not happen to them,
From underneath a blanket of pearl grey clouds,
The flattest of horizons, I say: 'hi.'
Sun Araw - Belomancie, 8:46 (Belomancie, Sun Ark Records, 2014)
June Tyson & Sun Ra - Theme of the Stargazers, 0:58 (Saturnian Queen of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Modern Harmonic, 2019)
Geo Wyeth - THE RESPONSE MADE THE CALL, 3:34 (ATM FM, geowyeth.bandcamp.com, 2020)
Laraaji - All of a Sudden, 8:33 (Vision Songs Vol 1, Numero Group 2018)