I wanted to share a little of the writing I am doing for my (s) AND project, a multimedia art installation piece. (You can read more about the piece on the “research” page on this blog.) The work brings together a media-mythic kind of haptic sensory experience created from a fused history of the Lithuanian landscape around the dunes of the Curonian Spit and the rocky shores of Blekinge in Sweden. (How’s that for an explanation!) It includes a series of poetic reflections on sand, stone, Baltic waters and the impossible histories that unify the elements and sites. (Sand is, after all, in part, eroded stone, and the Baltic sea has helped carry, both figuratively and literally, rocks and sand across the ever shifting shores and borders, over millennia, defying site-specific claims of uniqueness. So there.)
While in Nida I was inspired in part with my writing for the first section of the (s)AND text–a poetic text that will be remixed with others as part of the experience of the installation–by the death of my high school friend Gordon. I have elsewhere discussed his passing as part of my Message in a Bottle project.
While struggling to find a way to begin “writing” the Nida landscape, to create a text that might facilitate the basis of the abstract story-telling experience I imagined at the heart of the installation, I sat with my blue bottles in my studio and tried to conceptualize the writing. Processing Gordon’s death at the same time, mourning while pondering how best to represent him in my bottle project, I remembered a secret connection we shared, and realized it could be a gateway to my writing for (s)AND as well.
In high school, I recalled, I had actually paid Gordon $10 to write a geography paper for me on “continental drift.” It is truly the only time in my life I have cheated academically, and even now as I write about it, some 30+ years later, I am mortified and ashamed. As I recall, it was a sort of innocent thing that began as a joke between us, a kind of dare, but then he agreed to do it, and I just went with it. I believe I even received an A on the paper. It was short and not worth much toward my final grade, and at the time it seemed quite hilarious.
“Ah Youth. What idiots we were.”
Nonetheless it was an academic deception I’d never accept or excuse now, but at 16, it seemed like innocent fun to trick a teacher neither of us liked very much, for an assignment neither of us respected, and so we saw it as harmless fun. It was never discovered, except by me, again and again as the memory bubbled up to taunt me when I challenged students for plagiarism. Years later, I shared the memory with Gordon, and he couldn’t even recall it. I assured him it had happened, and he too couldn’t believe we would be so reckless. “Ah youth. What idiots we were,” he wrote. We were truly thoughtless and oh, so rebellious, or so we thought.
But as I thought about Nida, the sand dunes, and the Baltic sea, and as I thought too about the stony shores in Sweden where I lived (where sand was a rarity) and then wondered how I could merge the coasts, I thought about tectonic plate shifting. Naturally. Makes sense, right? 🙂 But, in fact, the reshaping of shorelines through the manipulation of continents, dragged across the sea floor, configuring and reconfiguring them as masses of stone moved together and moved apart along underwater geological conveyor belts, leaving sea trenches in their wake, heaving up mountain ranges, certainly defied the idea that Lithuania and Sweden were somehow separate. I remembered too the theory of ancient super-continents, huge land masses that were the fore-bearers of our “modern” continents. And I remembered little Baltica, a smaller land mass “kicked” around” by the bigger ones, but often joined to them too before moving on. And then I thought more about unity, rather than separation, coming together, suturing coastlines, and the pain of that joining.
What was the history of drifting as collision, and how could it serve me through seeing connections, no matter how painfully massive the union might be?
My curiosity and research lead me to Pangaea, an ancient super continent formed 300 million years ago, in part, from the collision of Baltica (a continent that now contains much of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia), and Laurentia (North America’s parent-mass), and Gondwanaland, (a messy mass of pretty much everything else). I realized a telling of them, their union and separation, might help me form a basis for the other legends I hoped to tell in a series of poetic reflections at the heart of the (s)AND piece.
I realized too, as I was writing and preparing to send my bottle for Gordon into the sea, that drifting and collision too became a metaphor for us. We had shared an intense and personal history at a key time in our youth when the normal growing pains of becoming-adult were particularly charged for each of us, in different painful ways. But we also shared huge gaps of time, watery distances in between, which we never fully reconciled as grew up and on in our adult lives after college. I always imagined one day we would reconnect in person (rather than via occasional email) and really share our pasts, but it never happened. We had other secrets, much more painful than a plagiarized geography paper about continental plate tectonics, and I know now we will never get to compare scars.
My discovery of his death while in Nida, through my stumbling across his obituary online, was a stony reminder of how far we can pull apart, drift away, and never necessarily get a chance to float backwards and heal. Backstrokes are hard, especially across oceans. I am hoping my inclusion of the poem I wrote and dedicated to him, that is both in my blue bottle drifting in the Baltic, and within the (s)AND project, will help me tell for both of us…
I am including only an excerpt of the poem here, from the beginning and the end. Necessarily, I must leave out the center, the core, and let you guess about what it left (out)…
The formation of the supercontinent Pangaea
of tectonic shifting
and mass manipulation.
First it was Laurentia and Baltica that collided.
Although, in all fairness,
Paleozoic time counters
the dynamism and force collision evokes.
They drifted together, more likely,
the scientists say,
as continents are wont to do.
A slow bump and grind,
never natural and yet geologically determinate.
In the stone. Sure as amber.
Crawling into each other,
determining the proper thrust,
and then zigzag fitted,
they roughly sutured
beginning a connection deep in magma earth-boil,
deeper still than sea-bottom,
before even swimming liquid life
and blue-green algae,
articulate brachiopods, graptolites, tabulate
and rugose corals.
Before even that.
Finally, shifting upward, breaking water-surface,
they heaved mountains
in the slow exhalation
Blue foam trails, mixed with smoky plumes
and rock strata,
back to water,
with each expelling
Boulders fingered up from water
and layered life-worlds
each stony spasm,
eons in the making,
trapping and animating
Fossiliferous by nature.
abandoning effort in high shallow air,
in the unoxygenated peaks,
they gave in.
they steamily gazed back down at their wounding.
Together, they saw the criss-cross scar
they had propelled across
the surface earth-flesh,
a scabby chain,
bearing treacherous witness of drifting,
and daring others to traverse, full-across,
away from level coasts.
But deep as it was, and jagged,
they knew the rawness
soon would heal,
and then numb.
These peaks too would wear down and new joining would begin.
Pangaea was coming.
[ …a long part in the middle of the poem, describing the coming together of Baltica, Laurentia, and Gondwanaland is left out. Suffice it to say, it was a painful joining. So, I jump to the end of section 1 below…]
Pangaea was done.
Patient work this devastation,
this drifting, exacting coalescence
from mass and liquid.
So much effort just for one-ness.
Pangaea ( “all-earth”)
surrounded by Panthalassa (“universal sea”),
one plus one,
Equatorial crossing and stitching over
hiding them under rock face,
land mass trek,
Such is the heavy work
of moving away and moving together.
Scientists call it drifting.
But really it is only massive collision.