devynn emory & Jesse Darling: Some days lately I touch a sense of peace
November 10, 2021
one looped year but the lake is a journal series at Danspace Project guest curated and edited by NYC-based writer and teacher, Asiya Wadud. In February 2021, Wadud invited 3 pairs of artists into a seven-months-long series of private exchanges through emails, letters, ephemera, and other forms of communication. Jesse Darling and devynn emory, Tarik Kiswanson and Asiya Wadud, and Angie Pittman and Anaïs Maviel were paired based on what Wadud regards as “threads and resonances in their work and the trace knowledge that they might like to know one another and would—perhaps—naturally run into each other during a non-pandemic year.” Wadud writes,“In the dual absence of chance encounters and touch, what other kinds of gatherings are possible? How else can we find our way to each other?”
Some days lately I touch a sense of peace holds nine letters sent between Jesse and devynn that stretch across the weeks between mid-February and late April, 2021. Please read the full exchange in a pdf document here. Read the first two letters sent between Jesse and devynn, below.
During the particular confinement of this past year, I’ve thought about the resonances I find in two peoples’ bodies of work and the chance moments that sometimes bring those people together. I came to know devynn emory’s work in the context of their Kin & Care research residency at Danspace Project in 2019-2020. It was there that I first encountered their performance lecture, ‘mmm’ (movement meditation memorials), which I have returned to again and again this year as a way to sit with the loss— the felled 2020. Jesse Darling and I met sometime in May 2020 through the internet. What can a body do? and Who can a body be? are two emergent questions and between emory and Darling’s work, there is a chance to ask this question and then sit with the replies in a variety of ways.
Here are nine letters between Jesse and devynn that stretch across the weeks between mid-February and late April, 2021. I keep returning to how devynn and Jesse each time reach for the referent ‘to’/ ‘dear’/ ‘you’. There is a sense of the real reader, held and a sense that the correspondence will unfold as it needs to.
Jesse, devynn and I offer these letters to you as a chance to see a new encounter unfold. In their letters, I am reminded about what is possible to begin.
Thank you for reading.
Some days lately I touch a sense of peace
by devynn emory & Jesse Darling
Feb 15, 2021
I start writing to you when it’s late at night and I’m awake with a toothache. I write from a temporary air bnb commune in a hamlet called Römnitz in the north of Germany (some friends and I are pooling resources and childcare while kindergartens are closed and one of the parents recovers from his top surgery). In my whole living memory I have never lived anywhere I couldn’t hear a road or a train, but here the silence is total, especially at night. It feels unprecedented, for me – and I wonder what would happen to my neural wiring if I could somehow make a life inside it, i mean inside the silence, or if I could live in a way that meant hearing birds and trees and crickets and wind instead of phones and trams and bar fights and cars. But we can’t stay here; as usual, this isn’t my house.
A day or so before this, I was listening to the amazing music you sent while cooking the evening meal. After I had my kid I got very sick with the episodic autoimmune disease I now know was the reason for the debilitating pain and occasional paralysis I’ve experienced since childhood – rather than the growing pains and psychosomatics to which they were attributed. This time it took my whole right arm and hand, and my knees; long story, but it took me three and a half years to start dancing in the kitchen like I used to. I sometimes attribute that to the testosterone I’ve started injecting again, but I also wonder about t: the ways in which it could also be a placebo or a stand-in for some kind of desire. Desire for what, for a whom, becoming-I? I respect and love the trans kids with their absolutes but I can’t share their conviction. I just felt I had to do this, like a calling, almost spiritual, but like any spirit journey I’m not at all clear on the purpose or the destination just yet. It’s true it gave me back my body, and the body is what we have, I guess. Used to always think so. But when I couldn’t use mine anymore – in the way I’d grown used to – I had to interrogate my whole sense of I and the ableist machismo with which I’d somehow constituted my sickly feminised self both with and against a sovereign white masculinity to which I knew better than to aspire. Or did I?
I danced while cooking to that music – I remember in particular the hunting song – a choreography of the knife moving swift and good like a long silver fish dancing in the stream. Pleasure of an old skill put to work after long latency.
Now when I write I’m numb on one side of the mouth where they pulled out the bad nerve. Topical numbness is a strange feeling in a living body and has the effect of making you feel everything very much, like silence has the effect of making you listen deeply. I’m thinking about you and how you work with bodies as a dancer, as a healer. How you work with bodies into death. I wonder what you think about the I in relation to the site of the body. Is a dead body still a person? What can be said about the parts of a living body that are numb or without feeling? Is the very question – of the I in relation to the site of the body – a false binary, cartesian fuckup, part of what must and can be decolonised (rather than abolished)? I mean, that last is a rhetorical question – of course it is. And yet I keep returning to it, or to something like it – for which I maybe don’t have language yet. You?
I have to remember that we are strangers to each other while I write. It’s easy to conjure a recipient in writing, but out of respect to the real person who will read this I’d better wait to hear back from you before I go on any further.
Mon, February 15
(translation- “is it pretty?”, “is it good?”) in one of my native languages- Lenape
as many of us Indigenous folk move toward the insistence of not losing our culture, and working as contemporary humans to find permission to both learn through the thick layers of assimilation while also being real to oneself; if i’m honest i’m not sure i would ever begin a conversation wondering if something is “pretty”. i do think the english language however is embarrassingly bland and i prefer the curiosity embedded in this version of the hello versus what is supposed to be a question but really reflects the whiteness in the question which is really a question that isn’t a question but one that centers the self and pushes a period out at the end of the question. like… “hey”.
neither seem accurate to how i’d like to respond or reach you. i enjoyed watching a few of your videos and typing to you on my screen similar to how you did at the end of your video capturing some of the bright red bloody and flashy december celebrations. seeing your reflection in the snow …ah…it’s cold there too. it’s exciting to see a shadow of someone, to have a memory of the unknown at the beginning of an introduction.
i hold up a little torch for you and all the parents finding creative solutions to support one another in this time where systems are crumbling down. the ones some of us never asked for anyway. the description of where you are was beautifully described, and i found my body relaxing into what i imagine some of the silence may feel like in my body. thank you for sharing that silence with me.
i’m coming off of a call with my client. my massage practice of 20 years has recently moved…online? you may or may not be wondering how one does any hands on body practice online. i certainly did. and it took almost a year for my stubborn ass to come up with creative solutions. i find such ground in my private practice, as it is the great balancer to the emergency work or hospice work i face in the hospital. the concept of folks feeling some relief after they leave my table has now become a miracle. the sensation of where our bodies connect and collaborate in that care is quite different than poking and prodding someone with machines. as my hours and days and months have disappeared my humanity as i became a soldier, or a covid nurse, or what the headlines are calling a hero, it felt especially hard to lose my private bodywork and healing practice. my patients in the hospital certainly aren’t feeling better, or leaving to go anywhere but the next plane. and so, maybe my clients are now them in new form. this session i just had was a channeling session. i’ve always seen them, smelled them, heard them, or a combination of both. these Spirits love to chat! so i recently opened up sessions to do just this. in a really direct, pure, form.
i love this question you ask about the living body with sites of numbness. i think of the ways you describe your pain too and can almost hear the sound of the electricity of the nerve they removed that you call “the bad nerve”. i see them running around solo doing a little dance.
i very differently than you but almost in some similar squiggle on a page, am currently enduring a very intense injury. one of the permanent scars from lifting dead bodies neglected by our governments. trying to lift them almost out of the reality. i’ve been keeping it secret for some time. i think losing family to covid, being overtaken by being a covid nurse, being a person who likes to have some privacy too but in this time feeling so exposed, i’ve hesitated. i imagine i also carry the old pressures of the ashamed injured dancer. and the weight of the untouchable healer. all this bs and yet yes- my body is the site of it all and so why am i so shy about it.i too confront my own ableism as i navigate the use of one less arm. the one seems to have turned to stone internally, no longer of flesh. i check myself again as i recall a patient from mine from some time ago who actually had this rare disease where her body turned hard in formation bit by bit, her face being last externally before it would consume her internally. let me state, that i am not having this experience. it’s not lost on me that my chinese medicine degree tells me that my left side, the stone side, is the “feminine” side. does this side of me feel rejected after all these years off and on the sauce? i relate the t injections giving life. giving one a sense of renewed self, but not the self that others expect or desire. i suppose i’m most alive in an undetectable space. but not in a way i’d like folks to always be so concerned by.
i think being a body that holds and carries pain, sites of numbness, hidden “variables” (variables to what?), makes us or i’ll say me…more comfortable with dying. but not because i think something is wrong with me even in this durational pain marathon of immobility. i think it has me trusting my body more. especially as someone who intentionally removed some flesh and now has for example numb nipples. it’s like i thought i told my body how to be but the jokes on me..they told me- “going numb!” and i now am just…with that. it’s a teacher. it tells me how to be now.
i’ve decided this letter is way too long but that i won’t go back and edit it. because i’d like it to feel like we are talking. not worrying about the outcome here. wanìshi for sharing and for listening. (gratitude)
kitchen cooking dances,