Dirty Laundry #5: Writing Process

The last month has been so hectic, I can’t remember my first thoughts from looking at this set. According to my notebook (ah, faithful notebook), I was struck that Sam was moving from hands to feet, I thought that S was upping the game by making a more provocative disparity between the pieces. I felt that the lighting gave a sense of time passing, and I noted Alice in Wonderland links (contemporary urban version). According to the notebook, I first saw the photos on the train from Newcastle to Edinburgh the evening of the Memory Garden w/e, which explains my memory-blanking. S & I had pre-agreed that she’d put the photos up straight away, but that I’d need longer than the usual loose-fortnight to respond, due to my teaching commitments. As it was, I’ve ended up needing even longer as I’ve written two pieces for DL#5.

My next session with the photos (I do remember this one) was also through the lens of my iPhone, taking some time-out over dinner in the cafeteria in Pollock Halls while I was teaching for SUISS. I came up with some questions for S which I’ll post separately. Photo 1 reminded me of part of my PhD thesis (Erica’s return home, section 4, for those of you who’ve read it…) but set at day rather than at night and with a dark suitcase rather than a red one. Photo 2 gave me a very strong sense of Alice in Wonderland: that iconic watch, the time checking, and the almost rushing sensation of the light. That fitted in with what I described as the ‘demure, lady shoes’ and slightly old-fashioned suitcase in Photo 1: a step back in time. Photo 3 made me aware that the perspective rises through the three photos, and I thought that sense of rising could be a good starting point for me. Is this the car she is waiting for? It made me wonder what S’s intentions has been with the ordering of the triptych since an obvious character trajectory would have been the reverse — a falling, with the character ending literally in the gutter.

I saw the watch as a provocation of expectation, the car as menacing and opportunistic, and the standing figure as defiant.  I made semi-extensive notes around those themes, then started to try to think of scenarios which made sense of the gutter-low outdoor first picture, the shoulder-height indoor second picture and the looking down onto the car in the third picture. A prisoner in a basement, dreaming of escape perhaps?

A week or so later, I started writing a piece. Which I finished last week. However, when I finished it I realised that while it had started off in response to the 5th photoset, it had ended up somewhere utterly different, and I no longer felt it was at all representative of the project. I typed it up and emailed it to S, explaining how I felt about it and that I wanted to write something else instead. She (endless patience, possibly fuelled by being busy on the latest film set…) said she was happy with whatever made me happy (the correct response in any partnership). I went back to the photos rather than my notes on them, and the final result has just been posted up on our Dirty Laundry project site in the Cargo collective.

Rather than try to get too clever with the perspectives which are shown, for this piece I’ve tried to use the story to fill in some visual gaps suggested by the photos. The second and the third photos became involved as almost concepts- imaginings rather than realities, and this led to me re-editing the whole thing into a future projection. The physical nudity of the person in the first photo became the focus, with some thinking about how that would play out not as a voyeuristic glimpse, but as a concrete thing over some time. More of a meditation than a story really.

see photographs and stories at cargocollective.com/dirtylaundry

 

FIRST DRAFT

Today I will wait by the roadside – suitcase in hand – until the pale morning sun is welling up over the trees and my legs are patching blue from the stillness and eventually my heads will bounce down and my fingers will loosen. When this happens, the latch on the small suitcase will spring open – imbued with the kinetic joy of bouncing three times in the gutter – and I will stare at the clothes it reveals, sore and blinking from lack of rest, forgetting that I’m not supposed to recognise any of them.

The small heel on the shoes will jut my pelvis forward and give me what I will come to think of as an attitude in my half-sleeping stance. I’m used to public nudity, but today will be different. Roadside nudity is perhaps a little squalid and while I stand there, exposed, I may come to questions the validity of my choices.

Waiting unfolded in the knocked-open suitcase by my probably-blistering feet, the man’s clothes will catch a feathering of dew – not enough to dampen, even – and I may start to feel guilty for spoiling the real leather of the wide belt and the expensive silk underwear.

Time will pass me by in white-rabbit jumps as the sun creeps around the thinning white muslin layer of clouds and the white fog in my brain thickens along with the furring layer on my tongue. I will begin to dream of all the forms of water – of toilets, of taps, of filling Belfast-sinks elbow-deep and half immersing myself like a reverse mermaid until I am fresh and dripping and somehow cleansed. Eventually I will take a step, another step, and stand a little away from the suitcase and let free a stream of shame that is unmitigated by the surreal emptiness of this street. I will not squat, since that will seem a form of giving in.

The wetness between my legs and a little on my left calf will feel wrong and exciting and begin to attract dust. I will consider using the blue shirt to wipe myself but in the end I won’t because I don’t see myself as a vandal. I will rhyme the words vandal and scandal over and over in my head until I arrive at sandal, and realise how much my feet are hurting.

Some time after this – after I have cried a little and refused to wipe my face either – a car will rumble in the distance, causing birds to fly out of the trees and my knees to give way so that I stumble. That is how the driver will first see me as the dark shape corners into this road, headlights still dipped low from coming through the tunnel under the river: flicking back the hair from my face and smoothing a non-existent skirt over my hips as I re-straighten, resisting the urge to stretch.