Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
— Simone Weil
If suffering, which we can only loosely agree on the meaning of, ensues from a sudden encounter with, or exposure to, reality — which we can only even more loosely agree on the meaning of — perhaps it is possible for some beings, in never encountering or being exposed to reality, or by actively sidestepping it — knowing what it might bring — never to encounter suffering. They may oscillate between darkness and ever deeper darkness, never a sliver of light hitting them through a crack, exposing the blunt scales of their skin. The same formulation unfortunately applies also to joy, or whatever might be named suffering’s inverse — the difference being only a matter of response to a sliver of light.
— Celestia Chunk, untitled fragment
Daily an image comes to me: it is of two yellow lines, each about two inches in length, drawn diagonally in parallel by some hand or other in the top right hand corner of a blank a4 page. I can see the precise shade of yellow (it might be called lemon), what implement was used to draw the lines (a felt tip), its tip or nib (felt and frayed), the texture and quality of the paper (matte and poor), the intention behind the drawing hand (to not write)… even how the light streaming in through the window (the paper is on a table facing a window offering a generic view) affects how I perceive the precise shade of yellow (which might be called lemon).
Daily the image departs from me: I project my mind into a future where the light streaming in through the window, having fallen in varying intensities over some time across the page, has worked upon the two yellow lines a fading so certain that they have disappeared entirely and the page is blank again as the mind, mine, which envisioned it.
As a result of this gently imagined dissolution of an even more gently imagined image, my mind floods with a relief so sweet it feels chemical. I will never have to create time away from work to work. I will never have to say over and over again no. There will be no dumb budgets dreaming. There will be no languishing hearts slowly growing sour. There will be no shirking, no lies, no apologies, no pep talks, no mandatory belief, no compulsion, no sacrifice, no idiotic counting, no ritual, no doubt. And the two yellow lines will never have to suffer existence, commodification, failure, conversation, beatitude real or false, or even visibility. I will never have to pick a word for yellow.
There are some 35 documented names for yellow from ‘papaya whip’ to ‘goldenrod’. Each pertains to a tint or shade. Each has its own wavelength, hex code, etymology, history, association and meaning. For example, the Mayan glyph for yellow means also ‘precious’ and ‘ripe’; the Chinese term for pornographic films is ‘yellow movies’. Yellow is often associated with sunshine, hope and optimism; and somewhat conversely, weakness, cowardice and sickness. Etymologically, yellow’s English roots lie in the Indo-European base ‘gel’, which like ‘yell’, means both ‘bright and gleaming’ and ‘to cry out’.
Yellow wants attention.
So despite what I should have learned from the pleasures of relief, I now, by some perverse internal compulsion I am renaming ‘generosity’, do not stop myself drawing, in quick bold gestures, the two yellow lines.
What follows is a sensation of euphoria so intoxicating I know it could only be power in disguise. It feels collegiate.
I am not trying to capture or suggest a landscape, a figure, an apple, a cup, a feeling, a fold of fabric or flesh. I am free of arcs, descriptions, punctuation, tense.
This is not inevitable as prose. It doesn’t plod towards the money shot. It doesn’t move like meaning. It is expansive. It ranges.
I am poised. A girl. This is the puberty I always dreamed of.
But what secret nubility is implied in ‘poise’, in ‘cusp’? It is proffered from outside. A woman deemed ripe for marriage. A woman deemed ripe by men for fucking by men.
I once heard that the etymological path of the word ‘love’ winds all the way back to the Sanskrit word ‘lobha’, or ‘greed’.
I am Tex Avery’s howling wolf in Red Hot Riding Hood.
Intention, after the first gesture, becomes pallid and small. I stop at the red.
Roman slaves dying whilst mining cinnabar — mercury ore — to make vermillion. Bodies of tiny female cochineal insects crushed into carmine. The synthesization in 1868 of alizarin, the red dye present in the madder plant, leading to the virtually overnight collapse of the market for naturally grown madder.
The two yellow lines appear to me now as they really are: a most simple depiction or symbol of the sun and its rays in the top right hand corner of the drawing of a child. Soon the blue sky, soon the green triangles of grass, the pink one of mother’s skirt.
Here is a floor plan of expected behaviours, predictable feelings. Here the doors swing inwards like guilt and there is a shady patch for dreamy masturbation. Here are people in a row called family. Here kisses lead to waiting which leads to sorrow which transforms into grief and ends in boredom. Here feeling natural only exposes the lies that are nature and feeling. Here is a topography of constipation. Here are the dimensions of a cage and so what if hot pink climbing flowers scale the bars?
Here is a map of present conditions and so a map of the future. Here nuzzling against the hard edge of limitation is itself a dynamic. Here only nuzzling is the idiot guide. Here needles flail for north. Here there are infinite varieties of flailing and they are all called dancing. Here moving along most already-existing avenues is inevitable because not-already-existing avenues are unimaginable. Here any deviation becomes, if not interesting, at least reasonable because it is borne from a totally unreasonable present position. Here movement in any or no direction makes the dumb rhythm needed to divine action.
It is dark. I flail. I swing my right arm. It hits a wall. Now I know there is at least one wall. I fling my left arm. It hits a wall which may or may not be the same wall as the one my right arm hit. I still only know that there is at least one wall. But there must be more than one wall or else I would not be or feel trapped. Unless the wall is a ring and I am at its centre or madly scaling its edges? If the wall is not a ring then there must be more than two walls or else this would just be a corridor open at either end enclosing no one. Unless it is an impossibly long corridor which only through its impossible length encloses? I throw my voice and it comes back quickly. I walk down for a while and bump my head. I deduce therefore that this is at least an L shape. I jump once. I hit my head. A ceiling. I try to lie flat. I can but only diagonally. Narrowness. Now I know there are at least three walls and a ceiling and this is not a corridor. This could be a prism. There could be four or more walls and that would make other shapes. Their names are irrelevant because their function is the same. I crouch for no deductive reason. I jump from crouching like a frog or a rabbit but less lucky. I jump because it feels good to jump even though I can’t get high from it and I learn nothing. I keep jumping because it keeps feeling good and that might tell me something. I combine it with flailing and voice throwing and also incorporate stroking. Pleasure and struggle mangle crudely.
Each movement is a line and all the lines together are a record of each movement and also of something else. This thing was made in the dark, it shows only the dimensions of this particular darkness. Yes it includes the fun and sorrow of my dumb body’s leaping, but still it offers no escape. This thing was also made in the light. But it was an eviscerating light too bright to allow for shadows. It shows my leaping body’s attempt to find shadows and thereby discover its distance from the sun, what time remains and whether it will ever touch another.
It is unlikely that these things will ever be known. But the body will remain leaping in desperation and glee, darkness and light, imagining only its head bursting finally through the ceiling and the real weather coming in in two yellow lines.
This is a stupid life. I pay my full attention. Doubt is a kind of space.
More about Mira Mattar’s work here.