DeMon / Curadores Feridos / AMtro

Trespassing of Boundaries and Unification of Differences Through Art


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SOB A AREIA

RCM outubro de 2019

ENTRE O DESASTRE E O RESGATE

Aberta à inúmeras interpretações e leituras, assim é a peça “Inferno: um interlúdio expressionista” inspirada no texto “Not About Nightingales” de Tennessee Williams.

Não cabe aqui uma sinopse. Muito menos uma crítica — até porque eu não sou crítico nem jornalista. Basta dizer que a peça segue quase integralmente o texto do dramaturgo estadunidense e que tece algumas reflexões sobre alguns temas.

Se as tece, não fecha conclusões em torno deles. Prefere levar o espectador a pensar sobre esses temas e, talvez, sobre outros insuspeitos ao próprio autor. No meu entender são: liberdade, aprisionamento, bondade, maldade, amor, submissão, dominação, direitos humanos, etc.

A ação se passa em uma prisão situada em uma ilha não muito afastada do continente, tanto que da sala do diretor da prisão, avista-se a cidade costeira de onde partem os barcos.

No prólogo, somos convidados a embarcar em um deles e fazer um passeio. Durante o “tour”, me lembrei de algumas situações que aconteceram simultaneamente na minha vida há cerca de vinte e oito anos.

De duas, uma cirurgia neurológica e a sequela dela advinda, eu já falei em outros textos. De outras, a dissolução de um relacionamento afetivo importante pra mim e a falta de uma renda que permitisse que eu me mantivesse em São Paulo, eu cito aqui pela primeira vez.

Depois do rompimento, eu analisei as minhas possibilidades e conclui que precisaria voltar a morar com os meus pais. No entanto, eles estavam morando em uma chácara perto de São Paulo, mas no “mato”; sem muita escolha, lá fui eu. Afinal, só ia ficar uns dias… Acabei ficando quatorze anos!

A viagem de trem (o meio de transporte pra se chegar à cidadezinha) e a localização da chácara podem ter favorecido uma espécie de fuga dos meus problemas, mas, como diz o poema de Hilda Hilst, “os trens não vão para lugar algum …, tu podes ir e ainda que se mova o trem, tu não te moves de ti.” Daí que, passados quase trinta anos e quase cinco que estou de volta à cidade grande, algumas coisas permaneceram. A sequela cirúrgica e a falta de grana, por exemplo. Já outras se somaram aos acontecimentos há pouco mencionados.

  1. Eu trabalhava com tradução que, entre tantas coisas, exige estar conectado quase o tempo todo. Só havia internet discada a época e a taxa de criminalidade na região era alta. Todas as semanas, durante quatro anos, ladrões aproveitaram-se de um trecho deserto da estrada local, assim como da imunidade oferecida por um delegado corrupto, para roubarem os cabos telefônicos. Em consequência, ficávamos sem acesso à internet nesse período. Isso tornava impossível o recebimento de trabalhos ou a sua devolução no prazo. Assim, perdi meus clientes e a minha única fonte de renda.
  2. Apesar de a cidade em que a chácara se localiza ser servida por ônibus intermunicipal, distar só quarenta minutos de carro de São Paulo e 1h de trem, pouquíssimos amigos me visitaram. Dessa forma, eu “fiquei no buraco” cerca de um decênio e meio. Felizmente, tinha uma família maravilhosa pra quebrar o isolamento enlouquecedor. Entretanto, não tive muitas possibilidades de buscar outro relacionamento afetivo ou mesmo de curtir boas amizades com o pessoal da minha idade e com os mesmos interesses que eu.
  3. Outro agravante foi o fato de eu não dirigir e de ter que depender de um transporte público muito ruim. Esse impedimento foi bastante piorado pela topografia de uma região tão acidentada, que tornava caminhar um martírio, e também pelo afastamento da chácara, que ficava em um bairro que “dormia” cedo.
  4. Dançar, nem pensar. Foi nessa época que eu passei a acreditar que eu não poderia mais fazer atividades físico-artísticas após a cirurgia. Na época, ainda traumatizado, ver meus colegas em cena sem que eu pudesse estar no palco, era meio como ver a vida da janela ou, como na peça, observar as luzes se acenderem e se apagarem na cidade, próxima, porém inacessível aos prisioneiros da ilha.

Enfim, essa quase década e meia na chácara me marcou até mais do que a sequela cirúrgica. Foi como se eu estivesse em prisão domiciliar pagando por um crime que eu nem sabia qual havia sido. Isso, quando muitos políticos corruptos e até assassinos não pegam quinze anos ininterruptos de cana, mesmo se merecerem e eu não ter o benefício de ir para o regime semiaberto depois de cumprir 1/6 da pena.

Além disso, eu não posso nem processar, nem cobrar indenização da justiça divina. ao contrário do que eu teria o direito de fazer se essa injustiça houvesse sido causado pela justiça comum.

Então, não foi só, como na peça, a sociedade que me mostrou as possibilidades do meu aprisionamento ou, por extensão, do aprisionamento do ser-humano em geral mas, sim, a vida.

Logo, quando um dos personagens de “Inferno” se joga ao mar para fugir da cadeia e fala que não sabe se vai sobreviver, mas que prefere se arriscar porque assim, pelo menos, estará do lado de fora, me fez perguntar a mim mesmo se haveria alguma chance de evasão do nosso aprisionamento existencial ou se poderíamos sequer experimentar uma liberdade real. Em suma, homens e mulheres, somos todos “Homens à Deriva”. Por isso, talvez, a peça se insira em um projeto assim intitulado.

A condição faz sentido, uma vez que é frequente estarmos nos desviando de uma rota, flutuando ao sabor da maré, beirando o precipício. Nos encontramos entre o desastre e o resgate, em uma espécie de limbo: nunca em um ponto exato, mas sempre na sua cercania.

Essa afirmação ressoa com o meu blog, AMtro – Aliança dos monstros. Coloquei esse nome no blog porquê para mim, monstros são criaturas belas ou feias, boas ou más, gigantescas ou diminutas. Contudo, seus corpos ou caráter híbridos sempre manifestam contradições internas e externas, visíveis ou invisíveis. Dessa forma, “monstros” podem ser imigrantes, pessoas com deficiência, e até o ser-humano contemporâneo, habitante de uma sociedade global ou, que chamo de “monstruosa”, por nos colocar o tempo todo em contato com o diferente.

E falando de deriva, de hibridismo e de estar entre A e B, não deixa de ser irônico que a chácara onde residi fique no meio do caminho entre São Paulo e Campinas. Em São Paulo, eu nasci, cresci e fiz vínculos. Daí abandonei tudo pra cursar a faculdade em Campinas. Por cinco anos, foi lá que eu morei e fiz vínculos que, achava, seriam permanentes. Mas eis que surgiu a doença e, por causa dela, precisei voltar para São Paulo. Depois acabei em uma cidade no meio das duas com uma condição física que acomete metade do corpo e que me tornou “meio” deficiente. E um amigo me fez perceber algo hoje: até agora eu vivi metade da minha vida sem nenhuma deficiência e metade com ela.

Portanto, me considero um homem à deriva e me identifiquei bastante com as angústias e contradições retratadas na peça. Aliás, falando nisso, me lembrei de um livro intitulado “O teatro e a angústia dos homens”. Por um momento, me senti parte deste livro, pois a minha angústia é universal e, como tal, está retratada em uma peça que foi escrita muito antes de eu nascer.

Mas, eu quero mudar de tom.

A CENOURA DO BURRO

No bate-papo com o elenco depois da peça, alguém comentou da engenhosidade e beleza de uma parte do cenário construída apenas com cadeiras de ferro empilhadas. O diretor respondeu que a escassez algumas vezes é boa. Assim, em um dia em que tinham só cadeiras, as empilharam no ensaio para criar um cenário. A solução ficou tão boa que, de provisória, passou a permanente.

Essa questão me faz pensar na gravurista e arte-educadora Fayga Ostrower. Ela dizia que, em vez de aprisionar, o limite orienta a criação. Em um de seus livros, descreve um jogo grupal em que uma pessoa traça uma linha, depois, uma segunda continua o traço da primeira, até que todos tenham traçado linhas continuando a anterior e deem o desenho por encerrado. Mais do que apenas continuar as linhas anteriores, todas linhas acabam sempre tendo alguma relação com elas ou com o todo. De certa forma, a primeira linha define o desenho que vai acontecer. Nesse sentido, o limita.

No fim, além de refletir sobre o limite, Fayga também aborda o que seria a verdadeira liberdade. Para ela, liberdade não significa fazer qualquer coisa, o que, no caso, significaria fazer qualquer desenho ou traçar qualquer linha. É, sim, fazer escolhas adequadas, porquê ao percorrerem essa aparente “prisão”, as pessoas fazem desenhos de grande liberdade criativa, como são os desenhos compostos de linhas orientadas pela linha anterior.

Concluí: o verdadeiro artista se impõe limites, sobretudo na maturidade. E assim, voltando à questão da falta de recursos de cenário, que era um limite, elenco e diretor o encararam, viram o que poderiam fazer com ele e mostraram grande maturidade criativa.

Algumas semanas antes de ver “Inferno”, vi um filme sobre o judoca Max Trombini. Depois de não passar em uma seletiva pra realizar seu sonho olímpico, ele, arrasado, conversa com seu mestre sobre sua imensa frustração. O mestre lhe pergunta se ele já viu um burro andar e conta como o condutor amarra uma cenoura em uma vara e a coloca na frente do burro que, pra tentar alcançá-la, tem que andar. Chegando ao destino, o condutor alimenta o burro e lhe dá de beber, mas não lhe dá a cenoura.

Entretanto, se o burro olhar para o caminho que percorreu, encontrará muita coisa positiva, e vai continuar encontrando, talvez até uma cenoura. Daí o mestre sugere que Max faça o mesmo que, com certeza, irá encontrar coisas boas. Isso se ele der uma chance à vida. Aceitar o que estiver diante dele e viver o presente, sem pensar no passado ou no futuro. Ainda finaliza: medalhas enferrujam, mas não os valores acumulados.

Os últimos exemplos de saída de uma aparente prisão pelo acolhimento das grades ou dos limites, são o de Hélio Gracie e B.K.S. Yengar. Hélio teve a sabedoria de encarar os limites do seu corpo e adaptar o Jiu-jitsu japonês à sua fragilidade. Criou assim o Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Um feito cada vez mais reconhecido, no Brasil e no mundo.

B.K.S. Yengar fez algo parecido com o yoga. Ele também tinha um corpo frágil que destoava do corpo dos praticantes da época. Não se apertou. Levou isso em conta e criou um sistema de yoga voltado para todos. Com o tempo se tornou um dos professores de yoga mais respeitados do mundo. Ambos criaram novos saberes e novas modalidades.

VELHOS OSSOS E VELHÍSSIMA AREIA

A arqueologia tem me interessado muito nos últimos tempos. Os ossos de aparência sólida e imutável guardam pistas inacreditáveis. A importância deles é tanta, que algumas culturas fazem dois funerais: um para as partes moles do corpo e outro, dez ou vinte anos depois, para as duras.

Esta noite eu sonhei que fazia escavações na areia e que dançava no deserto, uma dança meio cigana, tão antiga quanto ruínas e cacos de objetos antigos. Era o contato com algo muito ancestral.

Venho me sentindo assim, velho e curtido. Nada frágil e combalido mas, ao contrário, forte e experiente.

Lembro de Gandalf furioso em um dos filmes de “O Senhor dos Anéis”. Sua fúria vinha carregada de autoridade e de sua consciência de ter um profundo saber acumulado pelo tempo.

Lembro também de Omolu, um orixá antiquíssimo. Um dos meus orixás. Ele cobre de palha o corpo marcado pelas chagas da varíola. Vive numa caverna. É mal-humorado e ranzinza. Sua ira provoca enfermidades e pestilências. Porém, da mesma forma que as causa, cura-as.

Também me lembro de uma professora de yoga da adolescência que dizia que eu tinha um espírito muito velho.

Nós velhos somos feitos de rocha moída e desgastada pela água e pelo vento. Por milênios fomos tensionados, esmagados, carcomidos. Finalmente, transformados, em areia, formamos dunas proeminentes e cânions profundos onde escondemos antigas pirâmides, civilizações perdidas, ossadas pré-históricas, objetos primitivos, cidades fantasmas, múmias ancestrais, fragmentos antediluvianos, estátuas desfiguradas e ornamentos magníficos.

Como seres lunares, da mesma forma, ocultamos espectros da noite e amigos das trevas como escaravelhos, escorpiões, lagartos e serpentes.

Mas meu orixá principal é Oxum, um ser solar. É a rainha da águas doces que abundam nos oásis. Certamente tem nelas um palácio. Formosa, altiva e ornada com muitas peças de ouro. Seria essa rainha a cigana que dança no meu sonho? Seria ela ele, um rei e um cigano? Seria os, assim no plural? Os nômades do deserto, os tuaregues, os dono de uma sabedoria de quem sobrevive há milênios em um ambiente hostil?

Eu estou cansado. Não aguento mais negar o velho que sou nem esperar o rei que sonhei ser na juventude.

Já fui muito esmagado; já briguei muito; a areia já me engoliu e já sufocou; Entupiu-me as narinas e obstruiu-me a boca! Não há nada mais a fazer.

Vai ver que o rei é velho.

Se for, eu só quero lhe dar boas-vindas. Abraçá-lo. Incorporá-lo. Amá-lo. O Rogério que era bailarino e belo aos vinte e oito anos morreu há muito tempo … e pela metade. Algumas vezes chego a pensar que foi pena ele não ter morrido por inteiro. Mas cá está ele, vivo pela metade (Por isso chego a pensar que Deus é um menino sádico, que em vez de pisar na barata e matá-la de instantâneo, prefere arrancar-lhe as perninhas uma a uma pra vê-la se debater até morrer lentamente de fome). E o Rogério de cinquenta e seis, tá custando a nascer. Por enquanto ele é um vivo-morto.

Mais alguns seculozinhos, talvez.

Mas se demorar muito tempo pra surgir, despontará nati-morto.

O fato é que a exaustão chegou pra ficar.

Portanto, só quero desistir de lutar. Assumir que não preciso provar nada a ninguém. Relaxar. Não gastar mais energias. Não sentir mais dor por algo que achava que deveria ter acontecido, mas que não aconteceu. Tirar férias e boiar no mar sentindo o calor do sol na pele

Enganar-me ou não, que importância têm? Mesmo que a vida tenha me traído, ou que seja uma prisão em uma ilha, desejo crer que ela é bela.

Voltar a viver.

É só o que importa.

Oxalá assim eu encontre minha cenoura.

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Move with Thy Neighbour

I wrote the present paper based on another one written about 10 years ago for a master in Religious Studies. It dealt with movement in the inter-religious dialogue. After reading it again, I decided to write another version of the original paper without focusing so much on the religious aspect of a dialogue. While in the process though, I could not keep from recalling the many cases of religious, ethnic, gender and cultural-based violent attacks that, unfortunately, abound everywhere in the world since time immemorial. I could not forget the strengthening of far-right parties, the burgeoning of white supremacist groups, or the growing diffusion of hate-speeches. What about the killings of women just for being women; the persecution of indigenous peoples; the slaughter of LGBTQ+ people. Could I ignore them? Could I overlook the bullying of kids in many schools around the world as well as in the social media? Actually, for me they all are difference-motivated. So were the Christchurch mosque terror attacks in New Zealand that shocked me a lot. Alarmingly, humanity has not had enough of these and more is sure to come. Then I asked myself what I could do about this state of things, and here is my humble answer to this question

Embodying the Unity That Binds Us All Together

Man is alone before the incomprehensible: anguish, fear, attraction, mystery. The words are useless. Why call it names like God, Absolute, Nature, or Fortune? The necessary thing is to get in touch. What man seeks beyond comprehension is communication. Dance springs from this need of uttering the unutterable, of clearing the obscure, of being in relation with another. Maurice Béjart

Physical movement is the normal first effect of mental or emotional experience. John Martin

What Christ is saying always, what he never swerves from saying, what he says a thousand times and in a thousand different ways, but always with a central unity of belief, is this: “I am my father’s son, and you are my brothers.” And the unity that binds us all together, that makes this Earth a family, and all men brothers and so the sons of God, is love. Thomas Wolfe (THOMPSON, 1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Globalization brought us religious, social, and cultural encounters that one cannot avoid anymore. In Lieve Troch’s words, “To be able to engage in dialogues is the only way we can truly live in this reality…” (PIERIS, 2008, p. 12.)

Thanks to my basic training in The Art of Movement and a lifetime fascination for non-verbal communication, when I ruminate on the above I remember Maurice Bejárt’s excerpt quoted above.

It came from the choreographer’s experience during a holiday trip to a Mediterranean Island, when he had the opportunity to live the fishermen’s lives for some weeks. He points out: “when after the working day the men got together and started talking, they ended up quarrelling; however, when instead of talking they danced, they celebrated life without the need of words. At these moments, opposite to what happened in the former situation when incomprehension and heated debate took over, the keynotes were harmony and union”. (GARAUDY, 1973).

This experience suggests the importance of movement to the harmony and union among people. In addition, it also hints that motion may be even more effective to achieve them than the words themselves. I believe it is true because the interaction through movement enables a dialogue based on feelings and emotions rather than on rational arguments; therefore, such an exchange can go smoothly and fluidly.

I substantiate my statement by saying that there is nothing more natural than to follow the approach of ancient civilizations, as they never detach the verbal and rational from the non-verbal and inexpressible through words [ ]. (AMARAL, 2003; GUERRA, 2007).

Chatting, Not Bickering

We consider a dialogue not only any verbal conversation, but also any conceivable means through which a person can establish an equal relation with another. Thus, we believe that through non-verbal exchanges in movement-based workshops, one can develop abilities such as to truly look at, listen to, and physically, spatially, emotionally and spiritually relate to a person from a different background or with a diverse physicality thanks, mostly, to the momentary suppression of any logical argumentation movement allows. To root this approach, we link the integrative power of movement and non-verbal communication to Lieve Troch’s, Maurice Béjart’s and Rudolf Laban’s thoughts.

Troch is a feminist theologian based in the Netherlands that has taught in many countries, including Brazil. Béjart was a French choreographer, who created and directed one of the most important dance companies of the day, and Laban, a Hungarian architect, a dancer and a choreographer as well as a researcher of the human movement, was one of the pioneers of modern dance.

The Art of Movement

Created by the Hungarian researcher and artist Rudolph Laban (1879 – 1958), the Art of Movement was based in his method of movement analysis and practice called Effort/Shape. Laban’s compatriot Maria Duschenes, with whom I had the privilege to study, introduced both developments in Brazil during WWII.

E/S allows the description, recording, and analysis of the physical, spatial, and dynamic features of movement so that through their observation new possibilities of action can be suggested. This method has been used to coach athletes, business managers as well as to interpret politician’s and religious leaders’ non-verbal communicative styles and even to examine the behavioural patterns of animals such as planarian worms, dolphins, bears, and wolves.

The Art of Movement, the artistic and educational version of the E/S system can also be applied to a number of different situations. Could it also help what we understand by dialogue?

Inner organization

The Art of Movement offers ways to organize one’s body, feelings, emotions, and thoughts

by enabling the person to relate internal attitudes with external shapes of movement, by increasing their expressive movement vocabulary and eventually by giving them the ability to transform their actions into emotional symbols through ordered patterns and rhythms (MIRANDA, 1980, p. 12).

It also believes that

movement considered […] — at least in our civilization — as a servant of man and employed to achieve an extraneous practical purpose, was brought to light as an independent power creating states of mind frequently stronger than man’s will (LABAN, 1975, p., 6).

Words Versus Action; Movement Versus Quietness

Together with some Eastern and Western foundations of theatre such as the Noh theatre and the Commedia dell’arte, and with some contemporary development of theatre as well, the Art of Movement bases the actor’s craft on actions rather than on spoken words. It does so mainly by focusing on how a movement is performed since it gives their expressive qualities. As an example, just imagine the same movement being performed quickly or slowly. By exporting this concept to the ordinary world, it sees neither actors nor dancers nor ordinary people as very different from each other.

The Art of Movement, then, tries to capture the human purposes that are always expressed through actions whether they lay visible or not. Therefore, although the moving or acting body fuels contemporary dramaturgy, stillness and quietness (pause) are also embedded in it considering it believes pauses are crucial for one to catch one’s vital impulses.

We expand this idea a bit by saying that to do it, contemporary theatre and the Art of Movement require performers to get in close contact with their inner selves by emptying, quieting, and silencing their minds. Paradoxically, one of the ways of meeting this aim is by keeping the focus on the outer body. Eventually, one gets through, and those impulses show off by means of physical and expressive actions.

Metaphorically, we can say that these actions take place because the muscles “sing” a song that is a physical expression of the soul. By listening to this song, the actors reach the state of introspective quietness and reach their very souls, the utmost source of all physical actions.

Just like them, the ordinary people depart from the concrete and profane body to reach the spiritual, the transcendental and the sacred one. (JANÔ, 1986; MARTIN, 2007)

Non-Verbal Communication: A Transgression of Frontiers

In her article Exercises on wonderment: frontiers and transgression of frontiers (Exercícios em maravilhar-se: fronteiras e transgressões de fronteiras) the feminist theologian Lieve Troch (2007) writes about borderlands, empty territories, and no one’s land. She tells about the pleasure she felt every time she went to the beach in her childhood. At those occasions, she enjoyed “staying for hours in the shoreline where sea and sand meet” (idem, page 50). She says that this line never stops moving. Therefore, the frontier it designs is continuously being recreated. In this ever-going movement, both sea and land get a bit of each other.

In other words, movement can turn solid and isolationist boundaries between distinct bodies into fluid and flexible ones so that they can blend. For Troch, to walk along the waterline is the same as to find out “the empty space between two different places, or a third country, or to walk between two worlds” (ibid.). This place “has a different face than either land or water” (ibid.).

Dance: An Experimentation of Relationships

She further refers to ballroom dance and says that in this game of the sort “the partners meet in the act of playing with the space between them and with the rhythm of the music in “a balance that must be re-established over and over again” (idem, page 51). This ever-changing space is an intermediate territory where they experiment with their relationship. (ibid.). She continues: the dancers may have the impression that space itself moves as their moving bodies constantly transform it. Therefore, when dancing, they play with this intermediate territory, with their role as leader and follower, with their singularly, and with their co-operation.

This way, Troch talks about the existence of rigid frontiers that need to become flexible to enable the parts to define equal terms. A dialogue would do that as it supposes a meeting in an intermediate territory or in a third country that may not even physically exist. In that case, its creation depends on the will and predisposition of each party involved in the exchange of ideas, and in this territory it is mandatory to look at just as to listen to one another.

If a dialogue is a dance of the sort, and vice-versa, I believe that there is nothing better to promote it than dance itself, or rather, a movement centred practice able to turn rigidly traced lines, limits, and frontiers into flexible ones.

Consequently

This approach

  • fosters one’s contact with one’s emotions, feelings and thoughts,
  • provides one with a tool to concretely organize them,
  • helps the development of individual and group identity,
  • enhances self-esteem, and
  • empowers voiceless persons.

Finally, by making positive use of one’s differences and abilities it

  • makes one aware of the advantages of any difference.

As all the interested parties wholly obtain the above, the Art of Movement enables a rich non-verbal dialogue.

Final Considerations

My experience with the power of movement was very different from that of Maurice Béjart’s. Over twenty years ago when a friend showed me a video from a company of Deaf American dancers, it became clear to me.

As a hearing person, I could note the respect for their partners’ body and movement in the way they moved together. I believe that it was because they knew movement enabled contact, organization, communication, and expression of something they could not express through words; it was, then, their way to get through to their audience, either Deaf or hearing.

Their lifelong experiences with movement allowed them to express and truly share something from deep within their souls that they could not express through words nor , to share it with anyone regardless of the language they spoke.

Thus, I believe that whenever emotion and feelings partake in the communication, I think they do not need — or should not need — be conveyed through any spoken language or words. In these cases, they pass from person to person, soul to soul, and everything that separates people ceases to be.

Would we need to become unable to communicate verbally to understand the power of non-verbal communication and movement? Are we like some hearing people that paradoxically are deaf to the voice of many of our brothers and sisters?

Then, instead of talking, thinking, and discussing dogmas, we should emulate the brilliant Mediterranean fishermen and dance. Maybe, by doing so, we could experiment the true union that we cannot experience from the top of our intellectual knowledge, and through dance and movement truly relate to the other and feel we are part of a whole. This way, perhaps we could say — not necessarily with words —, to whoever is beside us: the God in me greets the God in you. Namastê!


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Ground Zero – 2018 Proofread

Some people see my book as an exercise of self-pity. To show this is not the case, I decided to ground the ideas it revolves around on a conceptual starting point, a ground zero as I put it. Therefore, the readers would do good to at least read through this essay to follow suit the saying: “haste makes waste”.

I graduated in dance from UNICAMP (University of Campinas) in 1990. Close to the end of the course, I was doing dishes when, suddenly, my left hand got inexplicably very weak; so much so that I could not hold a glass. I hurried to the doctor then. After hearing me out, he told me that I had an inflammatory muscular condition; so he prescribed me anti-inflammatory drugs.

Because of my dance training as well as my personal experience in other physical activities, I knew that this diagnosis was not right. Therefore, I did not take the medicine prescribed by him. However, almost a year later I went back to him as both the tip of my nose and my skin got numb or itched often. All he did was to ignore my complaint and scold me for not having obeyed his orders one year before.

As the frequency and intensity of these occurrences increased, I went to see another doctor. She told me that I had a neurological condition and that I had had partial convulsions that due to a pinched nerve streamed either from the central nervous system or from the peripheral one.

It made sense to me, but even so, all the symptoms I was having just started to seem right when I threw a party to celebrate my birthday. While I was buying some drinks, I talked to the bartender with the right hand over the counter while hiding the left one behind my back as it moved like a crawling spider. What had seemed funny and intriguing to me at first, became so frequent and intense along the party that I rudely left my friends in it and ended up celebrating my birthday alone in the hospital thinking about death rather than celebrating life.

I spent the night and almost the whole of the next day over there, and the doctors were certain now that I had a problem with the central nervous system. Therefore, they scanned my brain. With that, they discovered a strange body in it that would probably grow. Nevertheless, it was neither possible neither to make a precise diagnosis of what I had nor to define the severity of it. Even so, the renowned scholars of the Medical School at UNICAMP were quick to give me their “verdict”. I use this word because it better describes the fact rather than the word diagnosis, since that previously to any testing, those doctors were certain I must have an AIDS-related disease just because they inferred I was gay. Sticking to their judgment and leaving aside any ethical standards, they abandoned my case as they were certain of my imminent and inevitable death,. Fortunately, a medical student interned at UNICAMP hospital and that had seen me at the students’ house, arrived on the scene and decided to take charge of my case.

Following an open diagnosis as my tests results were not ready yet; she restated her lecture’s verdict by prescribing me drugs for a severe case of toxoplasmosis only found in patients with immune deficiencies. Nevertheless, instead of responding well to the treatment, I only got worse. However, the worst was when I hurried back to the hospital in a helpless panic because due to some strange sensations caused by the fit-controlling drugs, I thought death was just around the corner. To calm me down, she said AIDS was neither different nor more severe than any other disease [1]; In fact, she told me, it was as if I had a brain tumour impossible to be removed surgically. By saying this, she placed my case somewhere between AIDS and a lethal, non-removable form of brain cancer. Since the results of my tests had not come yet, I faintly hoped that my case was not so severe and that I had something else.

Fortunately, for the sake of my mental health, I left Campinas, the city where UNICAMP is based, and went back to São Paulo, my hometown, and where my family and the doctors we trusted lived. At first, they agreed with their colleagues, especially about cancer, but they also believed in other more promising and less severe possibilities. Still, all of them agreed that my case required surgery. After the operation they sent whatever they had removed from my brain to be analyzed, and only after that did they close a diagnosis. To my relief, my hope came true, and I had neither AIDS nor deadly cancer. Instead, I had “something else”.

“Something else” meant neurocysticercosis, a disease caused by flatworm eggs. Although it can be deadly and impossible to heal by surgical procedures, it was not my case. Nevertheless, a brain surgery may cause permanent disability to the patient. To minimize this risk, the doctors were very careful. They left me awake during part of the operation so that they could ask me questions and from my replies differentiate the brain tissues from the cyst.  However, even so,  the operation left me with a permanent motor after-effect that although a minor one, would change my life forever.

I was relieved and grateful for being alive. However, I would blame that medical student from Campinas for that perhaps unnecessary and life-changing fright. Later on, though, I came to think: what if I had AIDS? And concluded: undoubtedly, she would have taken care of me and held my hand when my time on earth finally ended. Actually, I should have blamed her lectures instead as rather than abandoning me alone, they abandoned her as well. After all, they had let that young and unseasoned medical student solve a serious problem all by herself. Besides disgusting doctors, they had been lousy teachers as well.

Within her possibilities, she had been perfect. As a possible terminal patient, all I expect was to get attention from people that really cared for me rather than to be miraculously cured. Because of this painful process, I came to see death as universal and inevitable, as a natural fact, so that neither doctors nor patients can be untouched by it.

Sometimes I still get mad at it all and call the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Sod of sods and Divine S.O.B. However, thanks to it, I have thought about things we must let go. After all, what is life but a succession of symbolic labours and losses between real ones? If part of me died in that operation theatre, another one, unknown even to me, was born in that very same place.

[1] In 1992 there were not the drug cocktails that turn AIDS into a chronic condition.


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Former jockey Declan Murphy tells his story of winning again after reading his own obituary

CREDIT: SUNDAY TELEGRAPH <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/racing/2017/04/29/former-jockey-declan-murphy-tells-story-winning-reading-obituary/&gt;

Exactly 23 years on, Declan Murphy cannot remember anything about the accident that almost killed him. “Nope, nothing,” he says. “I have no memory.”

It is perhaps no surprise he cannot recall the details of what happened at Haydock Park on May Day 1994. That was when the horse he was riding fell at a hurdle. As he tumbled from the saddle, he was knocked unconscious.

While he lay on the turf, unable to roll from danger, a following horse stamped on his head.

So traumatic was the injury, as he remained apparently unresponsive in a coma, the doctors advised that his life support should be switched off, a move that prompted the Racing Post to publish his obituary.

The device, however, was left on while his parents travelled from Ireland. But because his father refused to come by plane, instead of six hours to get to Warrington, the Murphys took 24. And after 22 hours their son showed the first twitch of life. Subsequently his mind may well have erased the thought that he only survived because his dad was afraid of flying.

But the odd thing is, it was not just the accident that was expunged from his memory. Long after he had recovered, long after he learned to walk, to run, to ride again, long after he forged a new career as a hugely successful property developer living in Barcelona, the time he was at the peak of the riding trade remains a complete blank.

“Four years, six months, four days: gone,” he says. “I can remember up to the point I became successful. But it wiped out all the best parts of my career. It meant for years I pretended what had happened to me never happened. Because I couldn’t remember. When people talked about it I’d acknowledge it, but never engage. I removed myself from it.”

Yet now, two decades after the accident, he has just published his autobiography. It seems an unlikely proposition: the memoir of a man who can’t remember. “Maybe that’s why it’s taken so long,” he says, in his publisher’s office. “There are so many pages of my story torn out. I never wanted to do a book. I turned the idea down many times. I’d walked away, become someone different. I didn’t want to go back there. How can you assess the psychology of someone who doesn’t talk about what’s happened to them?”

The beautifully tailored suit he is wearing suggests he didn’t need the money. But in the end he was persuaded by his ghost writer, an American academic called Ami Rao. She became his ghost in every sense, trying to inhabit his past in the quest to help him recover the lost times.

The result is Centaur, a brilliant, bold and at times brutal examination of the process of re-constructing his memory. “What appeared to happen to me was I had an accident and I recovered. It wasn’t as simple as that,” he suggests. “It was a deeply personal battle. I didn’t have a fight going on within me I had a war. I chose to fight this war on my own.”

In the long process of recovery, he cut himself off completely from his past. Although strong enough physically, he only rode one comeback race. He won it and then walked away from racing. Ami Rao, however, made him confront who he was, made him look at every single piece of written or visual evidence of his riding prowess.

Declan Murphy and horse
Murphy pictured a year after his accident CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

“I’ve never cried so much as I have doing this,” he admits. “We talked to so many people about me. Their memories of what happened, it was like I’m a third party listening to this story. Really? That was me?”

One of the things he read during the process was his own obituary. “They were very kind about me,” he says of the Racing Post eulogy. “No complaints there.” As he recovered, Murphy had deliberately removed himself from those who had been central to his life before the accident. In the reconstruction of his memory, Ami Rao contacted all of them, several of whom had not heard from him in nearly 25 years.

“That was the amazing thing about this book,” he says. “Everybody we spoke to was desperate to talk. It was like they had finally been given permission.”

He discovered all sorts of things in the process. Like the fact his accident had happened the day after his hero Ayrton Senna had been killed and that he had apparently been filled with foreboding as he got ready to ride. Or like the way his fellow riders had reacted. “It seems when the doctor brought my helmet in and it seeped blood on to the table, every jockey in the weighing room that day, their blood went cold. You can’t imagine that type of scene. I certainly hadn’t.”

Ami Rao also contacted Joanna, Murphy’s then-girlfriend, who frantically tried to call him 20 or 30 times the afternoon of the accident, only for her calls to be ignored by the other jockeys, too traumatised to answer the phone ringing in his kitbag. She stood by him throughout his recovery, but they broke up soon after. The problem was Murphy had no memory of her before his accident. Nothing at all. Which was something his seven-year-old daughter struggled to understand.

Declan Murphy today

Declan Murphy’s book is “a brilliant, bold and at times brutal examination of the process of re-constructing his memory” CREDIT: SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

“My daughter opened the book and found a picture of me with Joanna,” he says. “She said to my wife, ‘Mummy, daddy had a girlfriend’. Then she said to me, ‘Why didn’t you marry her?’ My wife said: ‘Daddy had an accident and he can’t remember Joanna’. And you know what my daughter said? ‘But her picture’s in his book’.”

As he moved on in life, leaving his past behind, Murphy says the fact he was such a successful jockey became ever less significant. “I’m absolutely a different person. I have never used racing as a currency to trade in. Never. And I had a great career.” That said, he does admit that some of the mental requirements needed to become a top rider have been useful in his subsequent life.

“I absolutely used the disciplines I used as a jockey. But I think I had those anyway, and would have applied them to whatever I have done. I certainly had to be very disciplined in my recuperation.” Mentally, he says, his recovery was easily the most difficult thing he has ever done. Or at least that he can remember doing.

“I had to make sacrifices that you can’t imagine ever having to make. Yes, of course, there were consequential effects to that. Everybody said I changed. I became very private. I became obsessed with trying to create an identity for myself. That’s the thing when you don’t have a memory: you don’t have anything that tells you that you are the person you are.”

Now at least the memories are there in his book. Even if not in his mind.

  • Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao is published by Doubleday (£16.99)


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“Going on Crutches to Grenfell Tower after Ben Okri”

*If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.*
A Nigerian summons me to London from the sea.
A Palestinian gives me directions from the south bank of the
river.
As I hesitate at the head of a plummeting escalator
two sharp-suited businessmen turn to help me
descend into the Underground.
It’s rush hour and the carriages are crammed.
Boarding the train, I shrug off my back pack,
tuck it with the crutches close to my body,
and grab the overhead rail, realising too late
all this is difficult, strains my weak arm;
as the force of the train rocks through me,
an Irishman asks if I need help.
‘I’m okay’, I say, and lurch against the door.
Quietly, in a gesture that reminds me
of the formal way South Koreans offer money,
he grips my elbow, holds my arm
between Waterloo and Westminster —
to keep him upright, he laughs
before he hops off
and I take his place by the plexiglass partition
with its yellow vertical grab-rail.
‘Will someone give this lady a seat?’
a man asks. Not a single person looks up.
Only one of my fellow passengers is asleep.
‘Charming,’ I murmur. The man repeats his question
and a woman stands, without a word or a glance.
I sit. I have taken her seat,
her prized rush hour seat,
but I needed to sit.
I felt unsafe on my feet.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
At Baker St Station it strikes me
that heeding the call of the poet
wasn’t, perhaps, such a great idea.
As I teeter down a flight of stairs
a train arrives at the platform below me,
and disgorges a sea of people,
a flood of people rising toward me,
filling the stairwell, shoulder to shoulder.
one solid mass, an interminable force
I can’t thread my way through or bypass.
Neither can I turn around and go back.
I have to wait on the step
as people push past me,
and though my mind knows
that this muscular wave will soon pass,
I feel guilty for waiting.
For taking up space. For taking up time.
I feel stupid for thinking I could cross London on crutches.
I feel I shouldn’t have come.
I am no Biblical cripple.
I am not journeying to meet Christ.
I don’t need to be another Grenfell gawker.
I need step-free access
to a train home to Brighton.
But just as I realise
how foolish I’ve been, I see
that a small miracle is occurring:
people have noticed me,
are pressing closer together,
and a path has appeared
a narrow, shining hemline
along the edge of the stairs:
an invitation to continue.
Hugging the wall, I step
on down to the platform
as the physiotherapist taught me:
‘Good foot to heaven,
bad foot to hell.’
*
On the Circle line, a petite Black woman
smiles, jumps up, insists I sit,
and tells me about her corrected fourth toe.
She disembarks at Royal Oak,
and a couple from Colorado get on,
the woman curious about how long I have to go . . .
and before I know it, the train isn’t underground anymore,
we are rushing over grey streets and grey parks
and council estates, beneath a dull white sky,
and then we are there, at Latimer Road,
and before the train has even pulled into the station
it is there too. Right there,
through the window, watching us
with its hundreds of burned-out eyes.
Watching us go on with our lives.
Watching us speed through its shadow,
or stop and alight and enter its radius . . .
to go to work in a crime scene,
to come home to a war zone
or to make an unsteady pilgrimage
to a place we would normally zoom past.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
They greet me at the turnstiles.
Their faces are everywhere.
From walls, church railings, shop windows, telephone kiosks,
above the stiff queues of flowers,
the perfume of stargazers and rot,
their beauty radiates; an intolerable heat.
The honey-skinned mother and her five year-old daughter.
The Muslim couple and their baby.
The two young Italians.
A curly-haired girl, on the cusp of her womanhood,
Women in bright sweaters, bold prints, smiles and hijabs,
older men clad in dignified solitude.
Steven, also known as Steve.
Mohammed from Syria . . . please sign the petition.
Poster after poster, please call . . .
If you see . . .
And behind the telephone kiosk,
that plastered pillar of love,
with its poems and prayer calls
and white paper butterflies,
behind the viaduct
with its incessant trains,
behind the vinyl banner
on the brick-clad new build –
‘Considerate Constructors
Secure Everyone’s Safety’:
It rises.
The blackness.
The blackness
I have hobbled here
to stare at
as if nothing else exists.
The blackness
I will never forget.
For there is nothing blacker
than the windows
of Grenfell Tower
Not the niqab of the young woman
at the traffic lights
whose dark darting eyes
are the essence of light,
not the black plastic boot
that protects my shattered ankle,
not the black shell of my laptop
on which I’m writing this poem,
or the fascia of my BlackBerry phone
with which I took grainy photos
of the burned out windows
of Grenfell Tower,
photos that fail
to show those windows
as they are:
blackness as void.
Cosmic blackness.
The unfathomable blackness
we come from and return to.
Absolute blackness.
Cordoned off by red and white ribbons
Guarded from gawpers
by police in florescent jackets,
but impossible to cover up,
impossible to hide,
yet impossible to approach,
until a man strides by me,
stops up ahead on the pavement
and raises his arms.
Pale, grey-haired, in a grey shirt,
his arms lifted to the Tower
in an open-palmed V
for veneration
he appears to be praying.
mourning, giving healing,
sending love to Grenfell Tower,
communing with the spirits,
he tells me,
of his neighbours
who went to school with his children,
who didn’t want to leave this way
whose agony lodges in his throat,
whose vanished beauty shines from his eyes.
*
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower
Yes, Grenfell Tower is a mass grave,
a mausoleum, a crematorium.
It commands our silence.
But go and see it.
Go and see Britain’s black omphalos,
the navel of our failure
to take care of each other.
Go and see London’s real Olympic Torch
our charred trophy of arrogance, greed and contempt,
a monument to everything this country’s leaders do best:
scoffing at basic safety procedures,
ignoring experts’ advice,
flouting regulations, cutting corners
for the sake of padding bank accounts,
promising improvements, delivering death traps,
telling critics to ‘get stuffed’,
never consulting, never respecting
the people they are paid to represent:
people deemed a nuisance and an eyesore,
a blight on property values,
a threat to ‘social order’,
whose lives are not worth the paper
their missing posters are printed on,
whose inevitable incineration
has been planned, approved and fully costed,
whose grief and rage and anguish
must be micromanaged
with a drip feed of numbers,
a narrowing of remits,
a stealthy adjournment of truth.
But the truth cannot be hidden,
the truth is there for all to see.
Yes, go see Grenfell Tower.
Go by tube, bus, car, taxi, bicycle,
wheelchair, skateboard, roller blades,
tap the pavement with white canes, with crutches.
Go and see it. Take flowers, food and clothes.
Leave a message at St Clements.
Go and see Kensington’s anti-Kaaba,
its site of sacred devastation
rising in every direction we face.
And if you cannot go,
wherever you may be, however frail or far,
let us all, in our hearts,
stand with the disappeared,
and stand with the survivors,
let us stand with the uncounted, the discounted,
at the top of the stairs
on the twenty-fourth floor,
let us demand those responsible
for this preventable inferno
stop their frantic climbing
over Grenfell’s broken bodies,
through Grenfell’s tower of ashes,
over stacks of contracts, legal documents,
to a safety and freedom
they do not deserve.
And as the faces of the missing fade
into the black flames of memory,
by the candles of our witness
let us light
a clear broad path
to justice on the street.
With its hundreds of burnt out eyes,
from its unfathomable void,
Grenfell Tower is watching us.
We cannot fail again.
Naomi Foyle


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Books | NZ Poetry Shelf – Slip Stream

Slip Stream Auckland University Press, 2010

‘Green knows how to create atmosphere and mood born of genuine conviction. Slip Stream is lovely, weird and warm.’ – Hamesh Wyatt, Otago Daily Times

‘Slip Stream is an account of a time when Paula Green was buffeted in the slipstream of an illness. How can life go on as usual? she asks – and finds answers in poetry and music, crosswords and cherries, lists and family love.’

Source: Books | NZ Poetry Shelf