“I am so post-post, I am so meta-meta” (Monetochka)
Inability to concentrate caused by severe stress is known to medicine (Robinson et al.). Distress as one of the results of the current pandemic has been also discussed (Pfefferbaum and North). While this essay can be read as an experience of being unfocused in distress, I prefer to think of it as an autoethnographic attempt to make sense of the multispecies collaborative migration experience that has been catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is migration of multiple species—humans, books, records, dogs, birds, plants, bricks, shadows and many others—between multiple universes and “an ongoing re-working of the very nature of dynamics” (Barad, Posthumanist Performativity 818). They migrate not by themselves but in pairs, groups, together, supporting and pushing each other, creating the worlds as they move. In these collaborative alliances, they notice the portals to those worlds, point each other towards them, open up new ones, and become the portals themselves.
This text focuses on these coincidences and explores them as in-between spaces, leaps, ruptures, as skipping in search for an alternative continuity, for the decentralized and decentralizing order. Observation and inquiry (M. Wells), poetic, speculative, and imagination-driven mental, material, and discursive experience are the tools for this exploration. It could be defined as a fictional autoethnography, but is it really fiction? Speculative fabulation (Haraway, SF), more accurately, frames the nature of this paper: a dynamic assemblage of distributed knowledge. This knowledge is collaborative becoming in and of the entangled multispecies worlds.
With the beginning of quarantine, my thoughts have been increasingly less and less straightforward. I find it difficult to focus on one thing: like Sheldon in one of the first episodes of The Big Bang Theory, “I was working on [the article], and I thought, hey, …” (Litt et al. s.1, ep.4). The thoughts jump from one matter to another, making mental bookmarks and notes for the ‘better’ days. I think, I probably should write them down but it would be another distraction from what I have been doing then. I see in social media that I am not alone. It comforts me yet skipping accelerates. I try to hold the thoughts together and they burst in pieces like in the Big Bang…
With almost an awe and curiosity, I notice that there is too much coincidence: it feels the thoughts themselves lead me somewhere. Are they tuned in to the world? Or am I in a simulation, and if so, who created it? Martin Wells wrote about the life script narratives of our own creation, which like order-words (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus), define our words, gestures, relations, and the roles we play. From the perspective of transactional analysis, the psychoanalytical method of dealing with emotional problems through raising awareness of one’s own discourse by means of observation and inquiry, “life itself becomes the therapist to us” (M. Wells 143, 149). Martin Wells elaborated that true liberation from the restrictive structure-stricture (Berne) starts with awareness of the connectedness of the world that we are part of. It resonates with the Deleuzo-Guattarian idea of becoming in the rhizomatic world as a constant movement between the striated, or structure oriented, and smooth, or nomadic, spaces. Connectedness, Martin Wells offered, contributes to healing (150) as it helps finding stillness, silence, and the space in-between. Becoming clandestine, moving in-between and inside in motionless voyage, performing “a veritable ‘defacialization’”, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari proposed, break “walls of significance […] to which dichotomies, binarities, and bipolar values cling” and save us from getting sucked into the black holes “around which lines coil to form borders” (190). It is the “simplest and the most significant lesson of all”, which the Ancient One (Derrickson) summarized in the words “It’s not about you”. This lesson enables breaking through the keyhole of the ego’s illusion of control and fear of losing it towards the magical multiple possibilities of the entangled world.
I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed when too many pieces burst in too many directions—silently, as if inwards, I scream “Stop”. They stop and wait… I think… Is it the uncertainty or precisely this knowing-feeling that comes from the outside-inside? I notice that not only are my thoughts jumping from one subject to another, but the thoughts are not thoughts exactly. They are hybrids of thoughts, memories, sounds, smells, images, voices, movie quotes, song lyrics, feeling of dance movements even when I sit still in front of my computer… —ruminations (Henson, Aftershocks, Wrangling Space). These mutations happen fast. It is difficult to say what is the continuation of what. Rhizome-like, they have neither beginning nor end… (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 21).
Anxiety impedes concentration, but it can “also improve the ability to detect and avoid danger” (Robinson et al. 203). The anxiety fed by confinement reveals or reminds me of the sensuality of knowledge, of individuality and the complex nature of logic, of the lines of flight from reductive conventional logic’s continuum towards “a virtual cosmic continuum” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 95). Arundhati Roy called the pandemic a portal opening the new possibilities, a chance to rethink the reality we live(d) in and build the world anew. The portals glow yellow and I turn around to see them the moment I read her words. I feel their presence neither around me nor inside me, but rather we are together, a becoming-in-between, having a certain shape only “in the smallest interval” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 94). In contact, immediate or by quantum entanglement (Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway; Einstein), bodies mutate, maybe taking each other’s shape, learning about each other and mutually transforming. Mutation and shape shifting are part of the learning process as in the cartoon Contact (Tarasov and Kostinskii).
The voices of Deleuze and Guattari fade into three images, yet with every new thought more images appear… I stop and make a mental selection, focus on the smallest interval: on the initial three images. They do not come in sequence nor are they simultaneous. I do not think I will ever be able to say what came first. They have been there. I see them in a distributed manner, as one sees optical illusion images: the focus skips from one shape to another in acceleration.
The morning breeze smells like summer as I remember it—fresh and warm. It calls me out. I get up. The blades of different weed grass that grows better than anything else in my backyard, leaves of wine, their shadow doubles on the brick walls in the dispersed light, plantago leaves that one day miraculously appeared in my closed brick backyard are my portal to/from the past… The breeze lightly moves the leaves. I breathe in and skip from one leaf to another with the rhythm of the breeze. Clue 1.
Dark emptiness, the distant stars are not the stars but the glowing grains, all that is left of the destroyed Fantasia (Petersen). I skip from one grain to another till I see the bluish light of the Ivory Tower floating in the empty darkness… The hopeful joy squeezes my heart: It survived! Is it my grain skipping that maintains it alive?
I am half asleep, I had a flu, a fever. I think I am six, eight (?). I feel heavy and at the same time warm and cosy in the blanket… the cosiness could be the later memory. I think it is winter, Christmas time: I think I feel the warmth of the heater. I hear/feel the pulsation of the bells of different sizes. I wish they would stop ringing. Is it my memory or did I read about it in a children’s story? I start jumping from one bell to another, swirling around them, from one paw of the Christmas tree to another—an overlapping memory of the waltz scene from the Nutcracker (Stepantsev, 5:06-5:16).
Rereading my diaries, stories, articles, and conference papers written or presented in different years, I clearly see the repetitions or refrains that trace the tune. What is this tune? Is it the music of Self or the music of life? The colours, smells, associations connected to some real or imaginary memories become nodes in a cosmic rhizome and intersection of different vectors and intensities (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 109-110). The rupture in the routine caused by the quarantine makes them sharper. The mutating and transformative nature of the virus shakes the striated spaces and reveals the porous nature of the borders seen before as walls. The walls become windows, doors, or something else.
The meanings of time, days, hours, usual territories, property, street noise, and house sounds are lost, put on halt, and transformed. Everything is and is not. I long for the end of the quarantine and at the same time I dread it. Waiting/fearing, I notice time does not fly but falls into a black hole. With curiosity and awe, I feel it also drags me in. Boris Lavreniov described the post-revolution months: “The wind fraternized with the time,” and overnight peeled the husk off the streets, signs, buildings, words, people, their memories, their titles— “the dried scab falling off from the broken body that had survived the fatal moments of the crisis, being driven by the wind along the ghostly world of a bare street” (1). It is a healing stage. And it is simultaneously microscopic and massive, structurally affecting everyone and everything: “When a massive body flies through the space, smaller bodies even against their will are drawn into its orbit. That is how a seventh satellite comes into existence” (17). This massive body, as a huge wave, drifts off the sand and moss from the pier’s columns, reveals their artificial origin, and makes their revision easier. This revelation could be fearsome as it shakes up the customary, ‘normal’, striated. Similarly, Tiutchev explained our fears of the night: the night tears off the day’s gilded cover and lays bare the abyss
“[…] to the sight
With its black horrors of perdition,
’Twixt them and us lies no partition:
And that is why we fear the night!” (May)
Playfulness of imagination works as a distraction from this “fateful abyss” and allows (re)constructing the alternative structures, relations, and consistencies. This “ruminative storying and restorying of life lived in the consequences of space and time […] resist[s] the imposition of coherence” (Henson, Wrangling Space 518) and defies the norms of storying Self and the Other. In dreamlike fashion, when the sense of Self is interrupted, the ruptures help finding the overlooked in the coherence of the awake life (Golovátina-Mora 338-339). Those ruptures and inconsistencies ally with imagination “to make sense of the nonsensical, to organize the disorganized, to reconcile the irreconcilable” (Henson, Aftershocks 819).
The imaginary worlds, Mark Wolf wrote, are complex constructions with their own structures, interrelations and subworlds. They have their own logic and consistency; they are, as Wolf illustrated, transauthorial, transsensorial, transmedial, and inter- or trans-disciplinary. Different media open “portals through which these worlds grow in clarity and detail, inviting us to enter and tempting us to stay, as alive in our thoughts as our own memories of lived experience” (Wolf 9). For both authors and audience, world-building becomes a meaningful life event (10). It goes beyond storytelling (12), in fact, as Henson (Wrangling Space) noted, “I make my memories in the living. The living, rather than the telling” (521). It is the process of subcreation (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories), which is after all co-creation. Resistance of creativeness (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 108) makes the whole process transformative for its participants and the world (Wolf 9; Henson, Wrangling Space 522; Levitas). Wolf described world-building as a deliberate activity, an artistic endeavour (10) that generally corresponds to natural human abilities, which could be suppressed or developed further. For Abraham Maslow too, creativeness is a fundamental characteristic of the human nature that defines our relatedness with the world, “a special kind of perceptiveness” (65), and indicates the path to self-actualisation for an individual.
The “encyclopaedic nature”—complexity and richness in details—of the world-building requires an encyclopaedic approach (Wolf 12), or borrowing advice Fellini allegedly gave to Katherine in Under the Tuscan Sun (A. Wells): “You have to live spherically in many directions”.
Imaginary world-building is more of a journey in stillness: “we engage emotion systems while disengaging action systems” (Wolf 10).
The seventh month of quarantine, I hardly leave the apartment and experience the world through media windows (Wolf): social media, books, films, songs, plants, scents of my puppies. The wind brings simultaneously warm and fresh scents of grass. Is there more or less contact? I see fewer people, but I hear them more—before at times the building felt empty, now I hear them through the walls cooking, singing, playing inside their apartments. The first months of the lockdown, there are fewer cars—I do panic that I cannot travel and see my family, friends, the sea… I feel I cannot breathe at times. But there are more scents now in the air: grass, trees, walls, cooking… I see a big brown dog looking at me through the window from the opposite building. The dog sees me. We silently check on each other every day at around the same time for about two weeks. I have not seen it since. I wonder if it was real.
I look inside my moonstone ring—the North Sea’s wind hits me in my face. As if in a close-up movement I move back in time—I am ten (?). I look inside the micro crevices in a massive ice slide. The sun is warm and creates these caves full of crystals. They are so small that only a tip of my finger can enter. It is cold inside. I wonder how it is there deeper inside, how the sun plays on its walls, if there is water dripping. How does it sound? I wonder now or then…
A dancer (Quinn Wharton) recreates the last dance scene from ‘Dirty Dancing’ with his white lamp while at home alone during the quarantine. A musician plays musical instruments with echo while in social distance exploring and enjoying the versatile materiality of the pipes, sound, landscapes (Marshall). I hear the sound in my head:
But could you
perform a nocturne
just playing on a drainpipe flute?” (Maiakovskii)
Are the dancer, the musician and the poet lonely? Alone? Or are they more?
The leaky stains on the roof reread me a story of a moose… each time there is more there in this comic. Clue 2. With curiosity and growing awe, I feel my feet, now legs… turn into roots, they grow quite fast, deeper into the forest soil. Where is the sofa? I thought I was on it. I cannot turn and I panic, I feel claustrophobic and cannot breathe. Did I fall asleep? Do I need to move more? Or was it a call through my body to stop and go into stillness?
Hawking (1) described his work:
“Although I cannot move and I have to speak from a computer, in my mind, I’m free. Free to explore the great questions of the universe […] Finding out delves deep into what it is to be alive, to think, to be a human being, right to the limits of reality itself.”
The fragments of thoughts turn into a golden glowing net of coordinates. They are clues… The bricks of the walls of the backyard come closer and expand. They are like a comic strip, a quilt, but not linear, not flat; they are multidimensional, moving and changing. As in The Magicians (Gamble et al.), I collect the clues and they indicate where to go further between the worlds. As in Future Man (Overman et al.), I am producing ever new reality. There must be thousands and thousands of them by now. As in a time-lapse of sprouting, I feel I am not still but move with microscopic pulsations, turning around and aside in sync with my surroundings. The moment I notice this net of coordinates, it expands and starts sucking me in as a black hole—a wormhole to be precise: it has a funnel shape. We move from inside —outwards—inwards. It is a pulsating rhythm of movement.
In an instant, I move with massive leaps, skipping fragments of the worlds. For an outsider, I am still. The world-fragments open up as soon as I touch them and burst into pieces. The glowing, pulsating, coordinating net is a Deleuzo-Guattarian tracing. They are like stars in constellations: far apart yet making drawings in the sky. I focus and see one map, another, more, they burst the moment I see them. Unfocused I see more, almost all of them together in their (our) potentiality. Maslow spoke of creativeness as an ability to bring together “dissonances of all kinds”, and its constructiveness depends “in part on the inner integration of the person” (65). I feel the dissonances show the way, not fatefully impose it but rather raise the gilded cover. They are the secret language within that Colombian poet and muralist Rodas Quintero (Señor Ok) spoke about. It is the exteriority-within (Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway) that one explores in becoming.
The thinking-in-movement (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus) of world-building is an open-ended process (Wolf), and “sometimes a conclusion is just what happens when you’re done thinking,” summarized Henson (Aftershocks 823).
Pandemic is the time-space of the “Convergence” of the multiple realms—a cosmic event of the alignment of the worlds (Taylor), which becomes the window of opportunity to form new alliances through time, space, and dimensions, alliances with multiple Selves and Others, and as a collaborative co-creative effort to make the change, to survive, to stay sane under sensory deprivation conditions (M. Wells 149; Charlo), and to become more. I raise my eyes to the sky and, as if in multiple exposure, my memory visualises the Convergence scene from Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World (Taylor). The intra-active (Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway) and open nature of the Convergence prevents it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as it is often discussed in the science fiction (Wasserman).
I write with ink the script on a paper. I put the paper on the balcony floor in the sun and place an ice cube on it.1 The bubbles become like a window to read the letter, or, maybe, to look at me. In an instant, everything starts moving, the cube begins to rewrite the text together with the wind and sun. The ink seems to flow from the ice cube out onto the paper. The letters become clearer. The ice fortress is fluid, sensitive. A little puddle is a fortress now, its walls are steady yet responsive to the wind, they mimic and transform in a choir—in choreography—the dance of the letters, ink, the leaves and clouds far above yet inside the puddle. The paper is soaked. The ink is on the floor and on my fingers. I do not remember touching the paper. I wonder what is on the other side of the leaf. I turn it over hours later. The paper absorbed the waves of the puddle, the dance of the wind and the rhythm of the letters with them. The waves are now part of it. I am surprised and not: a baby dragon spitting fire looks back at me from the other side of the ice becoming water becoming air becoming paper waves. Clue 3. The dragon turns its head from side to side in the spatially interrupted dimension, skipping from the floor to the paper. Instantaneously, I feel my palm burning. It held an ice cube hours ago. I would feel it for hours in reminiscence, in expansion, rhythmically. The sensation is in-between bodies, imaginary and present, now and then.
The key to a portal was a note sheet that started appearing on the wall in the mornings. It was slightly blurry but the light notes were quite visible. They were there every time the sun hit the window. They are shadows of the little garden of my backyard. I work in the garden to make the closed brick-walled space somewhat more open with the smell of the leaves, rustling sounds in the wind and under the rain. In the allied response, it gave me that clue. To solve it, I needed more alliances of machines and people, social media and memories. I got up almost abruptly when I saw the note sheet on the wall. I could not unsee it, and Chopin’s Impromptu filled in the space. With it, the rye fields with scattered red and blue strokes of the poppies and knapweeds brought the warm smell of earth. The windy green forest surrounded it. I wonder if it is the notation of Impromptu. I look for it online. It doesn’t look as messy as mine… I leave this window open, and start exploring the possibility of a transcript of the light notation. Camera preserved and digitalized the image to complement my memory. Photoeditor flipped the image and made the tune more obvious. Paper and pencil began reshaping the shadows. Clue 4. A week later someone would post the notation of Stump’s Faerie’s Aire on social media. It was the same kind of notation, “arranged by accident” (Stump).
So, fairies… Indeed. I once hoped for them to settle in my garden. I saw a bird that I believe is a shape shifter or a fairy carrier if not the fairy itself a couple of times on my garden walls. The found notation was liberating as hope—I will find the clue…
Working on this text, I remembered remembering with a surprise earlier during this pandemic a short story I had to write down in 2014. Was it then an echo of today’s pandemic? An echo of the convergence event, or the convergence itself revealed at this moment of remembering? The writing of that story was not a process, but rather a thought-image flashed in my head, I believe, as a reaction to the events of the year. It struck me with its preciseness and I had to write it down as a short story before it started haunting me. Almost immediately a title, ‘Lock it up,’ flashed in, leaving me wondering about the possibilities for its interpretations. Soon after the beginning of the lockdown, the memory of this happening came back as a pulsating flashlight and a refrain. Clue 5. The similarities with my current emotional state and the overall situation struck me then and even more so now when I edit the text. The virus’ effect on the body reveals the porosity of the borders within the body between the organs, outside between the bodies, between the body and broader environment, and within the environment itself.
The story is full of refrains and patterning itself. Rereading the story now, I stumble over some images as if over a stone on a path, and the stone moves and speaks or rather sings in a silent but loud voice that goes straight to the brain or pops up inside it. It has the voice of contemporary Russian poet and singer Lisa Monetochka.
Those are the life rhythms of the seventh satellite, echoes of the quantum entanglements between beings in the shared world. Brought from the past, the story and the memory of its appearance stop being a memory as a mere piece from the detached past, but become a tunnel to navigate not the line but a time-space network, echoing back and forth in all directions, connecting and hinting at the connections.
Drums in the deep
It is the second week of May: the second month of quarantine almost finished. I slept well; it is a nice sunny morning. I feel anxious or rather I feel awe. The next immediate thought after having pinned down the name for the feeling are the words in my head: I am a beetle. I ask: “Like in Kafka’s Metamorphosis”? This is so sudden and unexpected that I do not hear the answer or if anyone answered at all. I do not feel those were my thoughts as in logical consequence of causal relations. They were just there, popped up, floated up to the surface. Their suddenness amazed me and made me finally write it down in the diary. The first note of the quarantine, even though I have been thinking of doing it since its beginning.
I try to recall my school-time composition on the interpretations of metamorphosis. The first thought is the Jungian archetype of rebirth, of transformation, or rather a thin line between death and life, conscious and unconscious (Main). Various Google search results also speak about creativity, cooperation, and an inevitable change without losing one’s integrity that can come with a little thing that is easy to overlook. Was it something I dreamed about that day? Was it rather synchronicity, “the simultaneous occurrence” between inside and outside events (Main)? Or maybe it was that “spooky action at distance” (Einstein 157), the phenomenon of quantum entanglement that Barad (Meeting the Universe Halfway) unpacked with her agential realism, or a Deleuzo-Guattarian rhizome?
I have my eyes closed, still not quite sure whether I am awake or not, I can still feel the emotions of the dream. The distant bark from the streets grows louder as if it is rolling. I almost can see a pack of different sizes, colours, forms of ears running, jumping over the knee-high walls of the little green areas between the buildings and a pathway. Some doggies are fighting over a little branch that could be found occasionally in the streets so well cleaned even during the quarantine at least in this part of the city. There are no less than 15 of them. They are happy, free, and purposeful. They run together, enforcing each other’s selves. The rising bright fresh yellow sun fills empty streets with happiness and strength highlighted with the well-marked shadows. It makes the dogs fluffier as every hair in their ears shines with the sunlight. They will run till noon more or less, then they all return to their homes to get some rest. People are at home these days. Streets are car-free. My puppy twins’ ears raised alert with the first fragment of this morning tune. As if being a slur or a crescendo symbol they merge that melodic sentence. They run together happy, free, and purposeful… The balcony window and my shouting to stop barking at 6 am break the harmony between them and the other barkers, possibly only two or three of them, to be fair. That breaks the connection between the dream, the thought, and the reality. I felt anxious till the afternoon… till when they would come back to get some rest of the heat of the sun. People are at home these days. Streets are car-free. Buses, cars, motorbikes… The streets are busy, the pathways are the same narrow, the forests did not magically grow up. Yet there is something. I feel its pulse.
The feeling of the rhythm of coastal drums was increasing with every day of the quarantine. It was not the suspension sound of the Jumanji drums (Johnston), or ominous Orc drum sounds in the deeps of Moria (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring), but the sound of the rain shower and the sea waves as in the song of Colombian singer Totó la Momposina, Aguacero de mayo. It is a thrilling from awe to excitement wave-like motion. Awe comes from recognition: of the sounds, of its volume and multidimensionality, of impulses that her voice and rhythms give my body. The motion starts by itself first nearly invisibly and then with an increasing amplitude. This pulsation is in the world, in me as I am in it, as I am of it (Barad, Posthumanist Performativity). Probably the most accurate way to describe it would be the octopus swimming: an expanding/unfolding then contracting, the tentacles are the multiplicities “lived along lines” (Haraway, Tentacular Thinking 2). It is the movement of a flow, transformation, mutation between in and out, myself and the other, thoughts, forms, origins, microscopic and massive, in multiple directions and between the species. In rhythmic sequence it makes me thirsty and satiates me.
While I have been working on this essay, something was forgotten, rediscovered and re-membered, reinserted in the sequence of Self, rewritten anew. Writing this autoethnography was more difficult than I expected not only because I willingly share my vulnerability (Strom), but also because of the constant desire to make the narrative coherent, organised, logical, and to rationally explain what is non-rational. It was not a report of the experience or a journey from the beginning to the end towards a specific purpose. Instead, it was an open process of mattering, in which “‘part’ of the world makes itself differentially intelligible to another ‘part’ of the world” (Barad, Posthumanist Performativity 817) as parts of this world and its making. The essay was part of the world-building, whose purpose is momentous. It is not relative but relational, part of the complex multispecies (dis)assemblage.
As I migrated between worlds, I found support in the multiverses throughout time and space: my past, present, and future assembled Selves, things around me and their shadows, literature, fellows in the journey of the project that makes this publication. The multiverses are full of clues or portals, ready or in making. They are not clues to how to interpret the worlds. They indicate the in-between, the spaces of co-creation, the openings.
The pandemic reshuffled my stabilized accents of attention from forms and causal linearities towards relating and becoming. It is therapeutic and liberating because the accent is shifted from the uncertainty of the local structures’ mutations towards the uncertainty of world-building. Skipping between the clues was a way to navigate the uncertainties in trust of the larger logic of relations between the worlds in making. It was the result of this trust, of looking for the allies, of listening to the new openings.
Now, looking back at the text, I see how its elements interact with each other and acquire new meanings with every new reading, as they open up new clues to navigate and re-story the experience. It would still be to a certain extent a selected piece frozen in time and space, yet, I hope, its open form would keep it a living breathing and pulsating experience.
+++++++, types my dog… He wants me to stop and rub his belly. I stop and that becomes the conclusion.
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An exercise provoked by Prompt 7 “Observing, sensing and sensemaking” of the collaborative series of exercises/prompts developed by Anne Harris, Annette Markham and M. E. Luka in May-June 2020.↲