despite appearances, progress has been made

The standard kind of progress – I’ve read and taken notes on Objects of the Dead* and Loneliness and Longing** – and the Megan kind of progress, where some nebulous kind of idea about the final exhibition is beginning to form in my nebulous kind of head. I see a lot of cross-disciplinary ideas around geography and story, material culture, art and the senses, beginning to emerge and don’t ask me to explain further because I can’t.

Arbitrary portrait of Eilidh Grace Young, aged somewhere around 15?  We were at her great-grandfather’s 100th birthday celebration: he died at 101. I can see her thinned prednisone hair in this picture; it grew back, only much more curly. ***

The senses are interesting, though, aren’t they? How much of memory and longing is interpreted, remembered, through the senses? Visually, a lot of course – it took me 16 years after my father died to stop seeing his face on random people in the street – but what of touch, and taste, and smell, and sound? Margaret Gibson talks briefly of transitional objects, an item of clothing perhaps, that retains the scent of the deceased that people sometimes keep around to hold the memory close as they move through the intensity of their grief. I remember the specific smell of my father’s top drawer in his bedside table, a singular scent of laundered handkerchief and tobacco. I would go in there sometimes to specifically sniff that scent, and I know I wasn’t the only offspring to do so. Odd. I don’t miss the smell, it isn’t a shadow in that sense, there is no loss or longing involved, but it is a specific and enduring sense memory.

Sense memories could be a kind of abstract shadow object though, if those words are even a thing at all. I need better descriptors, but it’s Monday and I’m already tired, so that will have to do. I’m thinking of the mother of one of my son’s friends, a young man who died recently, not yet twenty, just too sad at what he believed is the state of this world to want to live in it. Some videos of him playing computer games with his friends were posted on his Facebook page, and his mother wrote a not thanking the young man who put them there. She said her greatest sorrow was that she would not hear her son’s voice anymore, and now she could listen to it whenever she needed to. A voice forever caught in that moment in time, but nevertheless. His voice.

Eilidh’s great-grand father at 100. He’d lost much of his memory by then but was very good at faking one. He decided I must be one of his grand-children and was very happy to see me again.

I don’t know where I’m going here, I’m just thought jamming. Thought jamming is definitely a thing at all.

*I really wanted to like this book, but I didn’t. Broad ideas drawn too readily, I think, and a great deal more thematic than theoretical, with too many ideas being squished in. Good books are like a good meal; sure, you could show off by throwing in all the flavours, but the dish will be much the better for selecting a few complimentary ones.

I don’t know if good books are like that at all, I just made it up.

**Mostly written from a psychoanalytic point of view, which is not one I much subscribe to, but some interesting points made in a few essays. The subsuming of longing under the broad umbrellas of depression or anxiety was one of them, and there was something written by an English Professor that was worth the read, if only for the break from over-indulgent academic writing. You know lots of big psychoanalytic words, I get it, but dear authors, do you know how to communicate what they mean?

***Not entirely arbitrary portraits; I am thinking of using photographs of the deceased as part of the doctoral exhibition artwork and have been looking through my own archive for ideas.  I seemed to have stopped taking a lot of ‘proper’ photographs around 3 years ago, I couldn’t tell you why.

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