Charlotte at the Grey Gallery, Part 2



Messaging head with knees, ass up. Legs over fingerboard, thighs, slap chords. Spooning, plucking, straddling, turning away.

I’ve had one full beer and two sips of a second.  It’s a Thursday and I’m alone in the apartment.  I just cooked dinner and miraculously didn’t want to die, actually deriving a bit of pleasure in nourishing myself.  Small victory.  A friend texted me that she was feeling fully grumpy and tired and I texted her back that I thought she was brave for letting herself be fully grumpy and tired.

Growing up a cellist gives you such a strange relation to emotion.  My most intense feelings weren’t mine or for me.  They were channels for another’s voice, concept, or form.  They were an intensity that would run into me or surge through me but didn’t occur at the occasion of me.  I was always playing myself for someone else, playing and being played, someone else passing through—vessel, vacant channel, disappearing while being heard.  This is one way I feel like I know something of feminized forms of emotional labor—to be relegated to the status of feeling object, to be expected to feel for others.

When I was in middle school I bought a poster of Man Ray’s 1924 photograph “Ingre’s Violin” at the Cape Cod Mall Spencer’s Gifts—a woman in a head wrap with her naked back turned to the camera, head looking to the left, face in slight profile, one dangling earing visible, her back body exposed except for a shawl draped around her legs, a few inches of butt crack peaking out where her body folded to meet the bench she was sitting on, a violin’s characteristic f-holes overlaid onto the photographic flesh of her back. I think my adolescent mind understood in some way that this poster was for sale in this store because it had a sexual charge.  There was part of me that already knew that an image of the female form as instrument-ready-to-be-played was part of what was considered appropriate feminine sexuality under patriarchy.  Charlotte knew this instrumentalization and turned it against itself.  My adolescent overweight proto-gay-boy-self identified with it.

I’m a resonant object with vibrating strings.  I’m a thing held between legs, squeezed and not let go. I respond whenever touched, do pretty much anything you ask, maybe I break down or am unruly but I’m so ready to be used, not active until activated.  For most of my impressionable years I spent five hours a day talking to no one and engaged in a profoundly intimate relation with a person-sized vibrating object: such an entangled enmeshing of person and thing.

My early childhood relationships were to instruments rather than stuffed animals or people or myself.  I didn’t have a blanky, I had a cello.  My transitional object was a vibrating box, a relationship between sound, body, instrument, and page. It was a sonic world that was shareable but also unshareable.  It was, “mom and dad come look at me, come look at what I’m doing, come hear me!” but then they couldn’t follow me in and I wasn’t necessarily there.  I was rehearsing a scene of uncommunicability, sharing a feeling of unshareableness.

Maybe I got confused with which of us was the instrument, which of us was the player, which of us got played, which of us played.  I was so sure I couldn’t leave or say no, so clear that my only option was response, reproducing the same, being ok even if my body had already been sneaking out the back door for years.

Touching, slapping, holding, sliding, moving; my fingers and this instrument, sensitive and unthought at the same time; a delicate and rough encounter.