Rosa’s Moleskine. Scan courtesy of Rosa.

Carlota Mir is an independent curator, writer and translator. She works simultaneously across languages and fields, endlessly weaving them together with varying degrees of joy and ease. Stemming from her life experience, her work stands proudly at the intersection of feminisms, migration, sexual minorities, translation, histories and practices of curating across Europe — her homeland after all.

To the friends who came to stay
on, under, behind, around, and in
these lines

In this series of open letters, protagonist Rosa — a struggling young artist — repeatedly addresses writer Chris Kraus to tell her about her estranged mother in hopes that she will read her. Rosa’s mother is a stand-in for an older feminist curator and once-admired mentor. Recalling their relationship, Rosa’s open letters address feminism as a contested space of power.

Addressing an absent interlocutor who becomes a symbolic mentoring figure, the emotional, self-reflective, increasingly cathartic letters arise from Rosa’s need to confide in an older feminist in order to come to terms with a series of frustrated expectations and charged life events that have marked her by her late twenties. Inspired by a real-life encounter between the author and Kraus and mixing fact, fiction, and literary mash-up, the letters become far-reaching essays through which Rosa addresses the emotions and issues that run through her life narrative: friendship, sexuality, fandom, translation, #metoo, feminist theory, art and art institutions, toxic family relations, affective capital, precariousness, migration, burnout, and mental health.

Rosa, a fictionalised self who is also a re-enactment of Kathy Acker’s alter ego in her famous novel Great Expectations (1982) is the voice of a generation of creative millennials trapped between their hunger to enable and inhabit spaces for collective dissidence and the brutal reality of the underlying power structures that operate in the seemingly radical realm of feminist art and scholarship.

Mirroring a myriad feminist voices, both literary and biographical, which reflect on different inner worlds, desires, experiences, troubles, and contradictions inherent to female experience and wearing them as survival armour, Rosa befriends them all along her journey back to herself. Following their footsteps and building her own ‘multiplicity of I’s’, she embodies a layered ‘herstory’ of becoming, radical affirmation and self-determination through prose.

Simultaneously exposing — through the use of italics and notes — and hiding the various sources in the text, Rosa’s voice emerges within a landscape of appropriations and citations through which she explores indebtedness, intimacy, affect, relationships, trauma and complex emotions as tools for healing and feminist writing.

Rosa’s approach to citation — understood here as affective acknowledgement, kinship, filiation and embodied encounter — resonates with her estranged mother’s observations that citation has become a key model to think about feminisms intergenerationally — both in terms of the authors we reference and acknowledge in a bibliography and as a part of a broader understanding of where we direct our love, energies and affects as feminists. Because of the events Rosa describes in her letters, her mother will not be cited in this text. Instead, her voice is recycled in the purest sense.

Rosa’s letters were mailed to Chris Kraus. The second series of open letters, which will be addressed to Rosa’s mother, will be published in NO NIIN’s upcoming summer issue.

With Rosa, her mother, Gloria, Chris, Kathy, Sylvie, a series of scholars and journalists and an army of anonymous friends.

ONE

Dear Chris Kraus,

Excuse me for not writing earlier. I, too, needed a soft place to land.

I hope you don’t mind me sending this letter over. I got your email address from a friend at your crowded gallery opening in Stockholm a couple of years ago — she said you answered her. Your reading of this text, however, is what I’m truly after.

I’m writing to you because family relations are important to me and because I’m brave. (On that note, my mother always told me how brave I was. I think that’s why she abandoned me). Since you write great books about being a mediocre filmmaker and, most importantly, a woman, you have become a close, trusted relative to me and my many friends. We are a bunch of aspiring artists, feminist postgrads, precarious nomads, part-time bartenders, visible queers, underpaid freelancers writing about compulsive masturbation for Russian wellness sites, migrant curators and other socially dysfunctional creatures. We’re dysfunctional in both baby boomer standards and generic artworld fauna terms because we hold onto youth, gender, class, capitalist globalisation and other social variables as some sort of squalid bread job and a plausible explanation for our dramatic professional lives and lacklustre sense of self.

When I met you for about five minutes, free wine glass in hand, unfortunately escorted by a swarm of equally avid, reluctant fangirls who did not feel like sharing their space with me, you told me briefly about Kathy. You mentioned what it had meant to you to delve into her late life and work deeply enough, so you could write about her, and - I guessed - in so doing, heal yourself. You told a few of us about the complex entanglements present in all discursive and creative processes:

“What’s an identity but a compilation of influences? The art world militates against that, influences get edited out. But part of writing is to reveal the presence of other people.”

I remember I made some clever comment, something along the lines of pointing at the ways in which, especially as women, we have learnt to judge ourselves for holding feelings of fandom – a sense of over-attachment for something, ridden with embarrassing desire and a loss of perspective – vis à vis the actual validity of all these emotions as knowledge production strategies in feminist writing. (Quite honestly though, my comment was intended as a pedantic intellectual strategy of intimidation, so they would leave me some space to talk to you. Spoiler: It didn’t work).

When in conversation, I listened hard to you, so hard I couldn’t speak, I made eye contact, smiled, tried hard to make space and revelled in the unique experience of being physically close to you as well as emotionally. Hoping you’d hear me, I spoke to my fellow fangirls about fandom and affect. I remember I made some clever comment, something along the lines of pointing at the ways in which, especially as women, we have learnt to judge ourselves for holding feelings of fandom – a sense of over-attachment for something, ridden with embarrassing desire and a loss of perspective – vis à vis the actual validity of all these emotions as knowledge production strategies in feminist writing. (Quite honestly though, my comment was intended as a pedantic intellectual strategy of intimidation, so they would leave me some space to talk to you. Spoiler: It didn’t work).

I have to say, though, dear Chris, that was enough. You were dazzling.

When I Love Dick came out in 1997, Chris Kraus wrote that women’s written irrepressibility – the “sheer fact of women talking, being paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public” – was the most revolutionary thing in the world. She added: “I could be years too late but epiphanies don’t always synchronise with style.” Twenty years later, in 2017, Kraus would go on to write the late writer’s biography, After Kathy Acker. In it, she explores radical empathy as a methodology for feminist writing and, most importantly, as a therapeutic tool for healing their relationship and understanding herself.

I want to tell you about my mother because I know some of the things that went down between you and Kathy. Knowing what I know, which is relatively little, but enough, I imagine your writing process as some sort of Freudian transference rollercoaster. I can imagine that, in writing your sister Kathy’s biography, you assimilated her toxicity; through radical empathy, you put together the many pieces of her that made you, you and that make us all relate to one another as women, even if these were pointed shards of broken glass which bore witness to the existence of thieves in our mothers’ wombs and wolves in our sacred forest. Because maybe, we all have thieves and wolves within us.

(On that note, my editor can’t get her head around how on earth you were even allowed to publish the biography of a deceased sister twenty years after she passed, without her consent. All along, I was thinking: why would anyone have to allow us to write about ourselves, regardless of technique or style?)

Was Kathy’s God complex, sex addiction, male dependency, punk, narcissistic nonchalance and stubborn literary genius the feminist fuel to your radically empathetic, radically therapeutic writing process? Is she a despicable villain or a feminist hero? As much as I hate the idea of having to dislike your sister Kathy, you are right. Admittedly, there are some similarities between Kathy and my mother.

Her life was so sad. But she was also a terrible person, so it’s not as if she was a victim. Over and over again, she’d talk about this longing for community – but any time she was close to being part of one, she would sleep with everybody’s boyfriend, she would sabotage other people’s work. At a time when women were generally supportive of one another, Acker had internalised the idea that ‘there can only be one, and it’s going to be me’.

Besides her fascinating, godforsaken personality, if I learnt something from your writing it is that Kathy’s compulsive, narcissistic need to be acknowledged and seen by the world to the extent of sacrificing actual love made her profoundly female and human in a way that we can all relate to. In this sense, she does remind me of my mother. On that note, what would Kathy have thought of the Internet, do you think? Would she have whatsapped her way into a morbid mashup novel about you, the depths of your failed marriage with Sylvère Lotringer, and their love affair? Would she have ghosted you on Instagram? Or would she have taken you to court over that Guardian interview?

The internet is only a metaphor for this much larger atmospheric superhighway of emotional dementia.

Never mind, sorry.

Actually, I’ve never had much talent for making things up, either. I admire you, but I will never be able to find solace in family relations like that. Because, much like Kathy’s original Rosa, I am an orphan to an estranged mother. But unlike her, I was born at the Southern border, where, for a long time, women’s relationship to feminism was, in essence, dictated by a strange mixture of naked protests, suitcases full of smuggled books from France and England, lullabies, dissociation, survival, silence, exile, and death. This means that I was already an orphan before I met my mother, and then, when she abandoned me, I became an orphan again.

In other words, I am an orphan because, like Gloria, I am a borderland.

By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger. I write to become more intimate with myself and you. But until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate.

And everybody knows that wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.

Yours,

Rosa

TWO

Dear Chris,

I didn’t know how to start writing to you about my mother, so I began reading an e-flux text on the capitalisation of love and affect in today’s economy with steadfast conviction, the way I was taught at art school. I must say, dear Chris, I am fed once again. It is common for aspects of books and texts to infiltrate my being and continue to live inside of me after I finish them.

So it goes:

Now that pretty much everyone is in debt, love abounds!

Over the past few decades, it has often been said that we no longer have an addressee for our political demands. But that’s not true. We have each other. What we can no longer get from the State, the party, the union, the boss, we ask for from one another. And we provide. Love is the most recently introduced member in the family of inflation and bloat. It is a burst of fresh air fed into the bubble. Love in this sense is not an elevated romantic phenomenon but the economization of empathy. Love is immaterial capital in the absolute.

Love abounds on information networks – like a home, every inbox is a cacophony of emotions, of simple pleasures, seething frustrations, of unconditional support and permanent disavowals, of silent treatments and gushing confessions.

Love is a promise converted to a curse converted back to a promise. Of course, this regime change will be disastrous for many relationships, but how can you complain when you are witnessing the phasing out of work and its replacement by friends?

For a long time now, I have been translating you and Kathy into me, living in your texts. I was trying to vanish by reading you and writing myself back through your bodies and words.

You’ll be a friend to me, Chris Kraus, won’t you?

I keep finding solace in Kathy’s young, queer, arrogant, traumatised, violent, orphan punk girls unapologetically fucking, stealing, cutting up, engulfing, churning out the (text) bodies of dead white Modernist men and serving them up for breakfast.

I keep finding solace in Kathy’s young, queer, arrogant, traumatised, violent, orphan punk girls unapologetically fucking, stealing, cutting up, engulfing, churning out the (text) bodies of dead white Modernist men and serving them up for breakfast.

I keep finding solace in you and your alter-ego Sylvie and the many others that followed; in your inappropriately horny, desiring, broke, middle-aged women artists drowning in a sea of pouvoir-savoir, washed ashore by the daily tide and wave of endless writing competitions,

grant applications, credit loans, the eternal second-bestness inherent to witnessing undeserved male success, economic and emotional dependency and alienation, unwanted pregnancies, sexual harassment, toxic family relations and subtle, demolishing abuse,

inter-state migration, absurdly useless privileges - except for producing guilt - a rich inner life and a taste for the beauty of all things; lifelong animal companions, road trips in beat cars and sparse career mentions in stagnant class B art mags with the odd flashy appearance leading basically nowhere.

The body is a primary site of feminist action and art for a simple reason: when precariousness or oppression deprive us and our artistic practices of any other possibilities, the body must become the artwork and the discourse of dissent. That’s why I read you and Kathy when I want to write, so that you can be in my body, so you can be with me right now. So I can mourn and believe in a shared shelter of wine and roses, again. Most of all, I have been wondering whether you could please become me and speak for me, so I don’t ever have to.

Dear Chris, I am scared of her beyond any reason I know of.

Kathy Acker, Great Expectations, 1982, pp. 28-29. Scan courtesy of Rosa.

I know I am aging because I miss silly things about the past, which I used to think absolutely nothing of at best, and which, at worst, made me feel like a failure who felt too strongly. I didn’t recognise the pure, unrestricted, selfless quality of my emotions and thought of myself as excessive, always bursting at the seams. Undeniably, I felt freely because my simultaneous artistic ambitions and hopes for an autonomous life were nicely secured far into the remote future, merely causing a very abstract, distant kind of anxiety I could do nothing about, so I carried on with my life, which belonged to me entirely.

For example, when I was a broke art student in 2012, barely twenty, I used to walk into museums in Paris and cry at the beauty of things. Once, I even experienced a delirious orgasm looking at a Rothko (I know, talk about the abstract sublime – or the power of Dick, for that matter). I’d write and cry routinely in public settings, among friends, at the corner shop, in bed, as a fair way of interacting with the world. Words and tears of joy, sadness, curiosity, beauty, ambition, acknowledgement, enthusiasm, sexual fulfilment – though admittedly, more imaginary than physical - and frustration that life could not take me forever into her arms and hold me, that I had no homeland, that I seemed not to be able to fuck my lesbian girlfriends while my gay friends didn’t fancy fucking me. (Admittedly, I always had a soft spot for pretty boys and gayness). When I was a very young girl, I remember thinking my feelings were much like the weather in London – wind, rain, sun, sleet, all on the same day. I’d fill Moleskines I couldn’t afford with my manifold feelings and thoughts on art and society, university exams, friendship, love, sex, childhood trauma, modern mythologies and Roland Barthes. I remember being very hungry for all things.

Since my mother abandoned me, though, I have become very wary of emotions. I have been living in a bunker, and, recently, eating greens and thoughtlessly sunbathing, sticking to an utterly predictable routine of survival, shielding myself from emotional exhibition brochures, art theory books that talk about feelings, reading circles on affect and intergenerational feminism and institutional public programmes that promise to exorcise me, collect my anxiety, create care statutes that revolutionise the curatorial, and critically unpack contemporary forms of medicalisation and malaise. I have become so sick with feelings that I have developed an ovarian infection and all I seem to be able to do is sleep, feel pain in many other body parts, and endlessly put off my own artistic work on feelings.

Tell me, dear Chris, when did art become a hospital?

Yours,

Rosa

THREE

Dear, dearest Chris,

As you famously wrote to Dick,

Desire isn’t lack - it’s excess energy.
A claustrophobia inside your skin.

For a long time, the contents of my memory have remained fully inaccessible to me, much like a series of mass-produced, separate car engine pieces stored away in offshore cargo shipping containers, awaiting deportation.

Now, time has made the edges of my story curl up in such a way that they have become tactile.

I first met my estranged mother when I was twenty-seven. At the time, I didn’t really know who she was. (Though, as a matter of fact, mother was a real actress – I never really knew who she was.) We met at a well-meaning, fully catered residency for feminist artists and writers held at a fully carpeted, expensive, lofty, naff, anachronic, snowed in conference building on a remote island in the northernmost corner of the Baltic Sea. Based on practicing notions of intergenerational friendship, care, and vulnerability to rethink the notion of feminist waves, the residency aimed to become a space for radical separation and withdrawal from public life, collective healing, affect-building, feminist hope and resistance.

Undoubtedly, our encounter was shaped by the circumstances – both emotional and spatial – which had brought us all together. There was a deeply stern, churchlike, confessional texture to the environment we were kept in for six nights and seven days. Confined in that odd setting during winter’s darkest hour, we spent our days hanging out at the indoor pool, talking and crying together, bewitched under some sort of almighty feminist aura, eating free organic food covered by rare, lavish government grants, unpacking layers of personal trauma which became collectivised and swimming in a bulimic tide of public feelings. By the end of our time together, I chose to believe we had finally discovered, together, the ancient erotic wisdom of collective feminist communion and healing. Certainly, the whole point of such a setting was to mobilise a series of feminist utopias – of love, motherhood, collectivity, affect, revolt, and resistance – which are found in books like yours.

And my mother’s.

Every day, after every consciousness-raising session she was part of, I’d walk out of the stuffy, clinical room we were in, across an endless sea of windowless carpeted corridors and mirroring doors, touched beyond comprehension, discreetly crying out any leftover emotions and blowing my nose as I tried to pull myself together, at least outwardly. Invariably, I’d dart past a daily forest of blissfully oblivious white men in suits – undoubtedly important people attending different congresses – dentistry, housing investments, art auctions, state politics, you name it – nibbling away at finger food and drinking cocktails. Every time, I’d hurry past them so I could disappear into my hotel room to close my eyes and vanish for a while. Every time, I was both broken and strangely comforted as I became invisible to the world once again.

At first, I was convinced that meeting my mother had been a beautiful coincidence, a sunbeam in the Nordic darkness or a homecoming of sorts: I’d certainly enjoyed the effortless, reciprocal, ritualistic, public kindling of our mother-daughter bond. Certainly, like you, she was dazzling. I was enamoured by her charm, elegance, infectious wit, caustic humour and strong, irreverent, yet warm presence, which, come to think of it, reminded me of Kathy’s. An uninterrupted stream of the warmest, most caring, most tender attention, peppered with a concise, methodical flattering of my intellectual and emotional attributes, which guided the mirroring and family bonding process, did not allow me to acknowledge the huge depths of the power gap that stood between us. Blood ties blurred my vision so much so that I could not fathom the distance between the subtlety of her gestures and the vastness of her violence.

The whores spend most of their time with other whores and live in a steamy, hot atmosphere, here at the edge of being touchable. Their knowledge of how vulnerable each of them is defines their ways of talking to each other and creates a bond, the strongest interfemale bond women know, between them.

Once, I was very naked. Despite being soaking wet, buried under an excess of emotions which ran like water, I didn’t really know what I was feeling. We weren’t alone in the sauna, but we were. My mother was there, looking at me intently, tenderly, her body very close to mine. Speaking of the sound of waves and a hammam in Istanbul she had visited a long time ago, she recalled what it felt like to give up control, to let herself be lulled, comforted, and washed, to give in to the strong arms of a caring, larger, stronger, older woman.

The whores spend most of their time with other whores and live in a steamy, hot atmosphere, here at the edge of being touchable. Their knowledge of how vulnerable each of them is defines their ways of talking to each other and creates a bond, the strongest interfemale bond women know, between them.

I know your opinion when it comes to social practices. You will roll your eyes and reply vacantly: that kind of institutional altruism doesn’t interest me much.

But don’t you think that real love can happen, that we can continue to profane the tombs of white cismale authors and usurp the toolkits of excessively self-sufficient Freudian psychoanalysts to produce our own chosen family, uphold each other in our similarities and differences and keep on sharing living dreaming surviving revolting resisting thriving? Isn’t that the entire point of feminism’s political goals?

In another kind of way, I think you do it all the time.

Going back to my reliable, e-flux bibliographic source,

Actually, I think we are forced into these situations to consider how solidarity works to surpass structural limits by bonds of trust and reciprocity, but we should also think about the stresses placed back on those very solidarities when a structure is so bankrupt that it can only permanently rely upon informal generosities for its basic vital functions.

Affect is the new trauma.

Love,

Rosa

FOUR

Dear Chris,

What is the difference between a book and an institution? And how can you tell apart symbolic motherhood and emotional abduction?

Or, as you would say, answering through deflecting,

Yeah, well. How do you talk about the past without it seeming like an epitaph?

My mother once told me that the idea of a relationship between two women that not only acknowledges disparity between them but makes it into a productive and meaningful part of their relationship seemed so radical to her, still. She felt that there was a moral imperative in this model of seeking out the support of another woman who has experiences outside your own, and an implicit mother-daughter erotics. Engaging, as she did, in teaching and other forms of mentorship, entrustment —or affidamento, as Italian feminists of difference would call it— seemed more relevant to her than the horizontal model of ‘sisterhood’ that 1970s Anglo-American feminism had brought about. My mother found this model very appealing, as it allowed us both to revel in our unique capacities and stories because, despite differences in age, nationality, status, or power, each of us played a vital role in giving authority to the other to pursue their desires and goals.

On this note, my mother revealed to me that she was both shocked and embarrassed that, despite a lifetime devoted to art and feminism, Italian feminisms had escaped her for so many years. As I comforted and thanked her for her honest deference, I thought of marble mines in Carrara, freshwater streams and my late grandmother washing me, wrapping me tightly in fresh linen towels and smothering me in hugs. Piano piano si va lontano, she’d always tell me. I felt that I possessed something my mother did not - the carnal, legitimate, affective knowledge of Italian language. Thus, I took it upon myself to deliver the important love labour of translating among mother tongues for her and, throughout that process of entrustment, I translated her back into me.

I haven’t seen my mother in a few years. I wouldn’t say I miss her, but sometimes I really do, especially when I dream that I am bound to meet her at some kind of public setting where trust and affect are discussed on feminist terms but I cannot scream or run away, and she is there, beaming, knowing full well I cannot exist as long as she does.

In my dream, I walk past my old house in Brighton. I follow my estranged mother across a dark tunnel bridge and into some deli, furnished with rows of abrasively white lights. As I stand in the queue, penniless and silent, she looks away and continues to ignore me. She orders a wealth of imported foods from Italy – among them, heaps of feline blood and guts and forty pounds of buffalo burrata for her daily evening bath.

I haven’t seen my mother in a few years. I wouldn’t say I miss her, but sometimes I really do, especially when I dream that I am bound to meet her at some kind of public setting where trust and affect are discussed on feminist terms but I cannot scream or run away, and she is there, beaming, knowing full well I cannot exist as long as she does.

Recently, though, I think I have begun to scare her.


Sylvie and Jerôme pass through Prague as tourists and head on to Austria, not knowing where it is. She doesn’t want to go; they argue; they go.


Upon entering Vienna, Sylvie finds herself blurting out a concatenation of suppressed words to a stern, yet trusted woman who suspected something – a symbolic mother, if you will – on a very hot Thursday afternoon in the middle of June.


‘My mother is much more dangerous than you imagined’.


She begins to pick up what they hear.

Sharp, crash, bang. This sound, her sound: heard as disturbance. To become attuned. A feminist ear picks up on the sounds that are blocked by the collective will not to hear.


Dear Chris,

My mother always said Patti Smith was her favourite singer. I remember her subtly, lovingly stroking my back at the back of the cinema room, the song she’d asked for – Gloria – playing in the background, away from everyone else’s eyes; the unacknowledged, subtle, maternal presence of her desire lulling me, whispering promises of love, comfort and self-actualisation in my ear. For a long time – even now – I felt like this gesture was a precious one to hold on to: an innocent signifier of protection and affection, a candid eros of sorts I couldn’t but obey to.

And so I did. La obedecí.


Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine
Meltin' in a pot of thieves
Wild card up my sleeve
Thick heart of stone
My sins my own
They belong to me, me

People say "beware!"
But I don't care
The words are just
Rules and regulations to me, me

I-I walk in a room, you know I look so proud
I'm movin' in this here atmosphere, well, anything's allowed
And I go to this here party and I just get bored
Until I look out the window, see a sweet young thing
Humpin' on the parking meter, leanin' on the parking meter
Oh, she looks so good, oh, she looks so fine
And I got this crazy feeling and then I'm gonna ah-ah make her mine
Ooh I'll put my spell on her

Make her mine make her mine make her mine make her mine
She whispered to me, she told me her name
And her name is, and her name is, and her name is, and her name is

It’s getting late, Chris, I’d better go now.

Love,

Gloria

FIVE

Dear Chris Kraus,

Some other time,

It was a very grey, rainy evening in March. My mother and I had agreed I’d travel back to the colder, wetter, stiffer, Northern islands I had longed to call home again to get some work done for one of those grants which seem big and life-changing; and with it, a sense of our shared, great expectations. Of course, she knew that – she had sparked ample traces of that longing in my diction, in my gestures, in my memories, in my eyes. After all, she was my mother.

Sporting an adventurous shade of red lipstick and wearing clothes that screamed young professionalism, quaintness, intellectual sensuality and the power I did not have, I set off to meet her. Although I was wearing my finest winter attire – thick rimmed glasses, a black woollen turtleneck, black slacks, red heeled boots and a pink, silk overblouse – I have never felt more naked. I had bought her a little notebook as a symbolic token of gratitude, so she could continue to write about feminism.

‘She – A Cathedral’ Nikki de Saint Phalle, 1967. © Moderna Museet. Postcard. Scan courtesy of Rosa.

I’d also handpicked a few postcards, some of them reproductions of feminist artworks fresh from the shelves of museum shops I now squint past, selling her books, some of them relevant bits of lived memory that I chose to give up for her, one by one, cherishing each set of attached feelings as I let go.

I have now understood that my postcards were an act of affective surrender – enabling agents that read as candidly as the rest of my being.

‘A mother-equal

She has truly given weight and shape to lots of my intuitions.

So wise and still so curious, so generously offering a space of expansion, reassurance and resonance.

I respect you immensely and I don’t want you to think that I am instrumentalising my affection

Coming back to the neoliberal shape that our practices are forced to take in order to be promised a chance of existing

This is my way of talking to you

I am so full of hope and curiosity for the future.

Yours,

Your daughter’.

I didn’t know it at the time, but from that very moment onwards, all was already lost. I had handed myself over without knowing.

Dear Chris,
Consent is a narrow motorway and I’m walking on, half naked on the kerb, clutching my shoes, my books and her words like a schoolgirl at dawn, hoping I’ll be home,

Then, dear Chris,

I waited and waited in the sombre university building halls, holding on to a seemingly solid feeling of security and chosenness at first, and over the course of the empty hours and inbox notifications that followed, brutally abandoned. Suddenly, my mother appeared out of nowhere, nonchalant, barely present in the space between us, speaking to some other equally self-absorbed, high-profile writer about the redemptive power of memoir as a feminist writing tool. Befuddled, yet wearing my heart on my sleeve, I forced the shock, sadness and anger out of my system. I was still happy to see her.

Obviously, the rules which govern the dress and conduct of the terrorists don’t apply to her. “Today I want to have dinner with you. Go wash yourself. At six o’clock sharp I’ll be back”.

Despite our many plans, we never discussed my work. However, she really insisted on having dinner. She took me to a nearby pub, a perfectly impersonal, somber space with dim lighting, wooden oak interiors and a touch of pretentiousness that kept me walking straight, my smile broad and my expression calm like princess Diana at the wedding aisle, hoping on against all evidence, the sound of my red heeled boots clanking against the tiled floor, burying, under each footstep, the mounting sensation that I was being taken to a slaughterhouse.

The tenseness felt in all your muscles when you’re asking this question slowly dissolves and you look at this woman gratefully: how lovely she is, how sparkling with her hair streaked with grey. She’s wearing over black pants and a matching blouse, an antique Chinese jacket.


Mother, will you see me?


‘My friend and I are having dinner’ she announced to the waitress. So I am her daughter and I am her friend too, after all, I thought to myself, relieved and happy once again, the knot in my stomach dissolving for some time.

‘Look at you. Your words are so powerful. Your English is as great as mine. You are so brave’.

‘What was your childhood like?’

‘When did you start writing?’

‘Our sex life has dried up. How’s yours?’

‘You are the first person I disclose such details of my sex life to’.

‘My mother was a narcissist’.

Dear Chris,

I never finished dinner.

A bleak intimacy of sorts: the kind that could have been transcendental, had it not been born from the sheer desire to annihilate and possess me fully until I could no longer be anything I wanted to be.

‘Thank you for the lovely present’.

I left the restaurant shortly after midnight. I couldn’t look back – I hurried off in shivers, forcing a smile and clumsily waving at a lamppost, my emotions buried under a million waves of glass shards fighting each other for life.

I no longer knew where I was or where I had to go – the endless orange lines marking the two-hour late-night overground commute on my smartphone screen seemed to crash and disintegrate along with my sense of self. For the first time in years, I could no longer breathe, hear, see, think, or feel.

That is the last time I saw my mother.


Dear Chris,

Consent is a narrow motorway and I’m walking on, half naked on the kerb, clutching my shoes, my books and her words like a schoolgirl at dawn, hoping I’ll be home,

I spent five entire days trying to find words and tears, but they had escaped me. I spent five entire days blaming my body for ganging up on me so brutally. I spent five entire days lost in the London city underground network, gazing into nothingness out of train windows; staring blankly into people’s faces, witnessing them turn grey as I turned faceless,

Had she not, after all, confided so deeply in me?

Then,

I spent hours crying on a plane home, staring at a blank page,

I spent days in the library trying to find her, reading her writings over and over and fighting off despair by rethinking, alongside her, desire, relationships, motherhood and revolt in feminist terms,

I spent weeks fighting for economic survival and dear life, going back into that pub, carefully knitting, crafting, rehearsing, over and over, a narrative of feminist friendship, intergenerational filiation, and political resistance.

I spent months standing, covering dozens of gushing holes with my bare hands, as I began to realise that if I were to stay in my mother’s household, I’d have to choose between candy, paralysis and sleeping pills, or revolting for clothes, food and shelter.

Needless to say, I chose the latter,

And that’s when I knew that I would come to know estrangement.

Then, one day,

I remembered a sweet, balding man in the university halls, whom, after seeing I was waiting and learning my mother’s name, arched his eyebrows and replied, to my utmost surprise,

You know, there are many other mothers in this place.

An outburst of rage taking over

And that’s when I too knew, dear Chris, that, in order to survive, I would have to flee again and endure the moral imperative of my own disappearance.

Yet that’s how, instead of disappearing completely, I came to nest in your words,

So I could take stock of your love, address her, and finally tell her

that

I still speak English.

Yours,

Rosa

EPILOGUE

[Fragments from Rosa’s words]

She said to her ‘Nothing you have, even your mind, is yours anymore. I’m a generous woman. I’m going to give you nothing’.

She’s turning around and catching her eyes staring at her as if she loves her.

She is sitting next to her and listening to her talk.

She is saying that it no longer matters what she thinks and what her choices are.

Her eyes are not daring to meet her eyes.

She’s telling her to wait without any clothes on for her to come over.

_____________ looks very much like rape. When it happens,

She’s seizing her by the throat and hair.

She is thinking that it is not a question of giving her consent and it is never a question of choice.

So, what use is emotion? What use is anything? Oh, oh, she isn’t understanding.

I’m doing everything I can to control.

Nothing can touch (hurt) you when you’re moving this fast: a perfect image: closed.

All my artist friends were starving to death before they landed in their middle-class mothers’ wombs;

I feel too much. I feel I feel I feel I have no language, any emotion for me is a prison.

And she decides that the sword and the rose are her cunt, that her and her cunt, that she is both things. So that any pain is the pain she is taking on and deciding it’s hers.

A wine-stained arm supports her body, the young girl RECOVERED,

We don’t ever have to be ashamed of feelings of tears, for feelings are the rain upon the earth’s blinding dust: our own hard egotistic hearts. I feel better after I cry: more aware of who I am, more open. I need friends very much.

I am a person of GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Yours,

Rosa

P.S. This is a real revolution.

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