|Begin with a name.
|Naming is an act of denotation.
|Names are often conferred, as it were, upon one.
|A name is also a sequence of sounds. A movement of the tongue and glottis.
|A name reverberates when spoken.
|This story is also about sequences of sounds.
|Often, Emma thought in sounds.
|Perhaps Emma is a musician. Perhaps she plays the electric guitar.
|For Emma, perhaps the electric guitar made the purest noise, and spoke to her in the purest tones.
|Emma played her guitar with open tunings, coaxing out microtonal abstractions. Bending the waveforms, weaving sound.
|This story is about waveforms.
|A wave is period plus amplitude.
|The period of a wave is the time from one peak to the next, from one depth to the next, and the inevitable cyclic return.
|The amplitude of a wave measures the distance rising or the distance falling, the movement toward peak or trough, the terrifying plunge.
|Emma liked to hear the superposition of waveforms. Emma saw herself most clearly through this superposition.
|Sometimes more than others, Emma felt out of phase with her own sound.
|At all times, Emma liked to crank up the reverb.
|Reverb is a reflecting of sound, the amplitude decaying over time toward zero.
|Emma studied the Fourier transform, the mathematical function that transforms a wave from the time domain to the frequency domain. In which every moment of time appears at once, co-temporally.
|Emma heard sounds as patterns woven through the dimensions of space and time. The drone that runs through it. The pulse that moves below it.
|This story is about sound, sequence, and self-naming.
|Stories, it seems, are statements organized into a sequence.
|Stories seem to mean things in sequences of words.
|To name oneself is to speak oneself, to tell oneself, to mean oneself.
|Emma reminded herself that to see oneself clearly is a gift that can only be given to oneself, and only with love.
|Emma believed in most things, but she did not always believe herself. To be actual.
List of organs
Brain, Heart, Lungs, Liver, Kidneys, Pancreas, Spleen, Small intestine, Large intestine, Stomach, Bladder, Ovaries, Testes, Prostate, Uterus, Fallopian tubes, Cervix, Vagina, Penis, Adrenal glands, Thyroid gland, Pituitary gland, Pineal gland, Thymus, Muscles, Tendons, Ligaments, Cartilage, Joints, Skin, Hair, Nails, Teeth, Tongue, Salivary glands, Lachrymal glands, Rose, Tulip, Sunflower, Lily, Daisy, Daffodil, Dahlia, Zinnia, Marigold, Orchid, Iris, Peony, Lilac, Jasmine, Hyacinth, Crocus, Sage, Dandelion, Gardenia, Heather, Laurel, Magnolia, Redwood, Oak, Willow, Pine, Hazel, Maple, Ivy, Birch, Cherry, Apple, Peach, Strawberries, Blackberries, Cactus, Fern, Bamboo, Moss, Lichen.
A man wearing boots and I’m the girl. Kicking out a window and drunk. Smoking cigarettes in a darkened room with a single candle. Tiny crabs march over sand on a nighttime beach.
I’ve had some bad sex experiences to be sure. Often they felt like my fault.
Generally I don’t like to be touched. I’d rather go down on my partner—a way to preserve myself…
Emma wrote these things to herself in her notebook. Some were true. She believed she was doing this. She believed she was writing these things.
She flirted with the cute waiter when he brought more coffee. She wanted to touch his wrist lightly. She set aside the pen.
Perhaps Emma saw herself when she put on makeup.
But perhaps Emma only saw the silence of the self, for a moment alone with herself.
Consider: An eye seen up close. The purple shadow, the crease of the eyelid, mascara darkening each eyelash a thorn.
Makeup engendered a phase shift, translating her frequency into the feminine.
Looking at herself through the speckled surface of the mirror, perhaps Emma saw the true woman beneath the outer woman.
Emma had dates, flings, and romances. Many of these occurred only in her thoughts and fantasies. In her imagination, circling around the day’s hours.
- Rose who was tall and held herself oddly, as if about to unfold.
- Iris who brushed her bangs from her eyes and chewed her pen while reading.
- Sage who laughed with lips parted showing her teeth.
- Laurel who declaimed in an aloof style at a poetry slam, hip jutting and head cocked.
- Heather who thumbed the pages of Wittgenstein with ink-dirtied fingers.
- Fern whose upper lip and arms were soft with velvety hair.
- Ivy who sketched charcoal drawings of twisted human figures.
- Dahlia who spoke with thick vowels as if through a fog.
- Hazel who gave off the cold outdoors air from hard brisk hikes in nature.
- Jasmine who wore scalloped shirts embroidered by herself with mysterious designs.
- Willow whose tattoo-covered arms spiked the volleyball.
- Zinnia who listened and heard with an intensity that bordered on frightening.
Note to the reader: When you enter a command in the system, the system performs the work requested by that command and sends messages back. The messages report the status of the command and whether the system is ready to accept another command. If you receive a message that you don’t understand, you can enter a question mark (‘?’) to request more information.
Here is an exercise:
Begin with the text of your life. On such-and-such occasion, you noticed such-and-such ephemera, &c. The precise ordering doesn’t matter. Provide annotations for additional context, if desired.
Example: Emma sat in the bathroom shaking. Eventually her friend knocked on the door.
Annotation: In high school, everything felt wrong.
Example: The cute waiter brought a slice of marionberry pie. “On the house,” he said, winking.
Annotation: Her attraction to men went just this far, and no further.
Example: Driving home drunk, Emma leaned forward over the steering wheel to focus on the wavering lines of the freeway.
Annotation: This was an outracing of the self, a measure meant to keep one step ahead.
Weave these moments into your sound.
Gender is a system of texts, comprised of commands emitted and messages received, shaping out a silhouette in which you are expected to fit yourself, more or less. Who created this system, its purpose, what it’s good for, is impossible to say. In practice, it functions as a system of control.
But Emma preferred to think of gender as an infinite array of notes that one could pluck, like so many stars from their constellations, and weave together into a single concordant (or discordant) sound. This sound becomes the current along which your life flows.
|Sound, like water, moves in pulses.
|Sound spreads outward from a source.
|Thoughts spread outward too.
|Thoughts begin from a source. The source might be a moment in the past.
|A thought propagates forward from the past toward the future, carrying the present moment on its crest.
|The present moment is the crest of this wave, just as sound needs both the peak and the trough, and must always move forward.
|When sound comes to rest, it subsides into silence.
|When thought comes to rest, it subsides into the self.
Emma set up a drone with a delay pedal. It chanted through the amplifier, pulsing through the time domain into the frequency domain. It thundered around her.
She sat cross-legged cradling her instrument. Her long hair fell around her face like a curtain of water. She plucked notes as if plucking beads from the air. Each bead contained only itself.
Emma felt most dysphoric about her voice.
Her voice would always precede her, would always be what clocked her. It seemed to rise up from someone else, it seemed in its way to arise from someone other. It seemed to her that another person’s voice proceeded from her.
It was her voice, whom a voice on the phone called ‘Sir.’
For Emma, dissociating herself from her voice became a reflex. She could hear her voice but could never relate to it. Would never claim it.
Emma spoke instead through her guitar. Bending the notes toward her and against her, bending the frequencies as she bent her gender to her own conception of herself, shifting her self into her feminine register.
When Emma spoke, she spoke softly. When she played, she played loudly. In this way the microphone received her true self, her true amplitude.
She experimented by speaking into her microphone:
She drew out each vowel: Ta-all. Aloo-oof. Tattoo-oo. She could manipulate these sounds as she manipulated the sounds emanating from her guitar, a form of plainsong. In this way she could create from herself, from what was alienated from herself. She could form herself again in sound and learn perhaps to move forward with herself as herself…
Voice as spoken breath.
Voice as disturbance of air molecules, as words disrupt thought.
Lips forming O, a cupid’s bow of love.
Lips forming I, a grimace of pain.
These syllables the sounds of our moments together, and our moments apart.
Stormclouds gather invisibly, stirring memories inside of you. As a child, you were often afraid.
You move in breaths that are this long. The period of a breath and the resonance of a voice carry you forward. They demarcate your minutes, the periodicity of your life. Time is carried forward on each exhalation.
They say that music is organized sound; Emma wondered about this. She preferred to think of music as a continuous flow into which she could submerge herself for a few moments, borne along its current, as if prompted by a guiding hand.
This conception of music seemed most compatible with her experience of breath in those moments when she wasn’t sure if she would make it to the other side, when she came up gasping the cold air that sometimes blew through her days, both real and imagined.
Iris who brushed. Sage who laughed. Laurel who declaimed. Heather who thumbed. Ivy who sketched. Dahlia who spoke. Hazel who gave. Jasmine who wore. Zinnia who listened.
Prompt: While cleaning out your attic, you encounter a mysterious box. Inside, you find a letter addressed to you. The letter contains a series of clues that lead you somewhere else entirely, some unseen current.
Listen to the blossoms budding and unfolding within you, like the notes you pluck from dew or roiling thunder.
You’re afraid: to flow from yourself, to spread outward, to exert your own feminine thunderous pressure outward into the world. Afraid of how you flash brilliant and echo in afterimages.
Remember how we rode the ferry together? I went onto the passenger deck and stood near the bow to watch the water churn white and frothy below. This frightened you. Something about the speed of the vessel or the thought of falling overboard into the deep. Your imagination always went easily to your worst fears. As if you could feel, viscerally, what it would be like—that terrifying plunge.
There is something about the velocity of falling,
when you imagine the plummet,
how it would be to get sucked under
and your lungs fill with water.
How the breath is the strand
thin as a spider’s web,
connecting each moment.
How patiently time strings them together.
How we are situated within our bodies.
How my thoughts are like beads of glass.
How I can be strung out
on such vivid memories of you.
How the chill of memory seeps in.
How the mind swells with the tide
of thoughts pulled upward
by the gravid moon,
swollen with her silvery light.
How we danced at night, alone
and your hair fell around your shoulders onto my breasts
and we shared one breath. Never to be replicated,
each moment was a single drop of blood,
the summation of our swift emotions
fleet as the moonlight
that skips over darkened waters,
a widening ripple,
a circle moving outward from the point
where stones land in water, like the stone you picked up
and arced into the tide.
Tiny crabs marched over the sand by our feet. We could hear the tiny scratching of their claws in the silences between the waves, as the ocean forever pulled itself back within itself.
We breathed the world in, and we breathed the world out.
The inhalation, perception; the exhalation, movement.
Can you hold yourself, delicate in your stillness?
It’s the price you pay: moment by moment, wrapped in the cocoon of your unknowingness, your unknownness, seeing only what they’ve thrown back at you, those projected mirrors of not-you.
There is a faint pressure all around you. It is the pressure of each moment holding up a column of time, silence, self.
Eyes seen up close.
- A name can be chosen.
- A sound can be heard.
- A wave conveys motion.
- A story can pierce.
In one moment, I was with you and I saw you, cross-legged, cradling your guitar. I saw your hair fall around your face. I listened as you plucked notes like beads, like dew. I saw those moments, those tremors, those breaths, slow rise and fall. We glistened in a darkened room with a single candle, the flame breathing in slow flickers. I felt for your hand under the sheets. In one moment, we can hold ourselves and each other in this stillness. And you can sing or speak or chant a long, long note, a single vowel, the superposition of ourselves, a constellation, a current, fleeting.