Discover more from Freer Form by Shira Erlichman
Held, Held & Held
Dispatch #8: I miss togetherness
Let’s begin mid-bite, shall we? 🍣
While we’re mid-bite, why not share in some delights?
Brilliant fiction writer Marie-Helene Bertino’s advice about words to cut (or at least interrogate) in your writing has been guiding my novel revision. You know you’re a nerd when you enjoy searching 400 pages for the word “just” so see if you can justify (budum ching!) its every occasion.
I recently discovered the podcast Thresholds via this interview with Sarah Manguso. She talks to host Jordan Krisner “about thinking she'd never write a novel, processing the place you come from, and the cold silence of whiteness.”
This online archive of old music record label logos is mouthwatering. What’s your favorite? Mine are “Factory” “Lifesong” & “Dana.”
Aaron Freeman (who has an amazing career roundup of physicist, writer, broadcast journalist & standup comedian) on why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral.
I’m excited about this new release from independent children’s books publisher, Enchanted Lion. I find this glimpse into illustrator Violeta Lopiz’ incredible, deeply layered process absolutely astounding!
Today I accidentally said “crooks and nannies” instead of “nooks and crannies” & found pure delight in that mix-up.
One night on an In Surreal Life visiting artist call, I spontaneously suggested a prompt to our January cohort: (1) think of an art form you’ve always wanted to try. Watercolor? Dancing? Comics? (2) gather the materials you could use to try it. If you want & have watercolors, that’s tops. If you can’t find watercolors, use markers. Don’t have an electric guitar, but your toddler has a funny little Yamaha keyboard? That’ll do! Leave those materials out for tomorrow. (3) Congrats, it’s tomorrow! Set an alarm for 7:36 seconds. Use this arbitrary time period & those materials you laid out to PLAY! See what happens. There’s no pressure. There’s barely ten minutes. Go for it!
The idea is to set up the conditions for you to come closer to your wish. To get in the periphery of a dream. To start. To get messy. To make. To be imperfect. To fill seven minutes and thirty-six seconds with what if? With this. With something! The idea is to demystify the seemingly impossible via the beauty of beginning.
Speaking of In Surreal Life, the mind-blowing multidisciplinary artist Krista Franklin visited our January session. I really love this video clip excerpted from her visit where she responds to this Octavia Butler quote: “Pray working. Pray learning, planning, doing. Pray creating, teaching, reaching. Pray working. Pray to focus your thoughts, still your fears, strengthen your purpose. Respect God. Shape God. Pray working.”
I’m so honored to be playing a few songs at poet Gabrielle Bates’ east coast book launch for Judas Goat. More info will be posted online soon. For now, please enjoy this photograph of six year old me staring lovingly at my younger brother as between us the universe puckers for the camera. If you’re Brooklyn-adjacent come to Brooklyn Poets & check it out!
I have been thinking a lot about togetherness. I have been missing togetherness.
We share space with other people, our bodies are in proximity, but are we together?
These questions, of course, imply the pervasive interruptions of technology: cell phone use, constant checking & scrolling of Instagram, texting somebody in another space while mid-conversation, etc. This isn’t a judgement on those activities. I partake in them. It’s an observation: I miss when we spent whole afternoons, or days, just looking at & listening to each other, going on adventures, playing instruments & writing songs, sharing a meal with full attention. I miss full attention. Uninterrupted. Interlaced with boredom & pausing & meandering. I miss being with friends - just being with friends - not being with their phones by proxy. It makes me sad. It makes me angry that the part of my life where bored, exciting, activated togetherness without technological distraction is completely gone, in the past, disappeared completely by the late two-thousands.
When I was at MacDowell in November, a bizarre event happened. A snowstorm blew out power not only at the residency, but in all of southern New Hampshire. That’s not the bizarre event. Blizzards happen. Power outages are a likely result. The bizarre event was that while the power was out, we all gathered in the Main Hall, the only place there was a generator. The entire day was spent collectively & almost entirely without internet or technology, with the pool table leaned over, with the ping-pong ping-ponging, with bodies sprawled in the communal room’s couches, noses buried in books, soft conversations bubbling. I felt ten years old again, like school was canceled, a massive blustery body taking over the roads, littering them with branches & glittering them with silence. I felt peaceful.
I couldn’t help notice the joyful boredom that seeped through the room. It felt like ease, like giving in, like relaxation, like true rest. It felt rare. Because it was. Folks were focused on each other, on books, on sleep, on togetherness. As it was happening, I thought, savor this. I knew that in hours, the internet would become consistent, the power would ignite & we’d be back to our familiar, busier, more distracted pace.
A sweet hush swept through the room - billiards clattering, laughter, “Do you want tea?”, “What are you reading?”, shouts from a body flinging itself wholeheartedly at a boisterous ping-pong ball, & every now & then, total silence. A room of bodies, breathing together.
What does a room where we are together in this way sound like? When was the last time you were in a room like this? How long did it last? Why did it end? What fostered it to be a true togetherness-space? I really want to know. I want to go there.
I’ll give you some examples from my life. My brother recorded an EP in the late 2000s called Season of Increasing Light. Cell phones were a thing, but not social media. I believe you can hear the togetherness in the music. Can you hear it? What does it sound like to you? What does presence actually sound like?
Here’s another example, also music, because doesn’t music tend to be a place we go to feel togetherness? I really mean that, a place. Furnished with feeling. The Tiny Tornadoes was a band my brother & I were in for one summer. It consisted of three pairs of siblings! We called ourselves “campfire folk.” Gentle, Everybody was recorded in one day. One afternoon, really. It was 2006. No social media. No one even really used their phones except to let someone dear know that they were coming home. In high school I really loved Ani Difranco & I really loved this lyric: “People used to make records, as in the record of an event, the event of people playing music in a room.” I recorded tons of records because of it - some on my bedroom floor, some in “real” studios - because I wanted a record of my life. I wanted to be able to look back through my records like photo albums, to know I could find a very specific rendition of self there, replete with the context she was marrowed in.
In the span of 14 years, from 2002 to 2016, I released 7 albums. That’s an album every two years! This boggles my mind! (There are some albums that aren’t even listed, only shared privately.) It’s true that sometimes I thought about fame, about getting signed or “big” or whatever. I wanted a career in music, a way to keep writing songs & get paid for it. But most of the time I was focused on a simpler goal: each project, each record, would be a sonic photograph rich with that era’s details & soul. My favorites of these seven records are the ones where you can hear bodies in a room, being together, breathing, laughing, shouting.
What rooms do you inhabit where simplicity, bodies, & togetherness is encouraged?
What does that room sound like? How long do you get to exist there? What might enable stretching or deepening that time?
How many people are a part of this space? Two? Six? A hundred? What connects you?
Months after Gentle, Everybody was recorded, at twenty-two years old, I found myself in a living room in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts every Friday night at an artist’s collective dubbed The Whitehaus Family Record. I was a part of this beautiful collective of friends & musicians & artists & poets & weirdos.
The most formative part of this experience were the Hootenannies. Held every Friday night without fail, they were the strangest open mic I’d ever be a part of. Lasting often from (approximately) 9 PM to 4 AM, the small living room of the five story mansion & artist collective would flex with nearly a hundred people (spilling into the hallway, kitchen, back porch), dwindle down to twenty cross-legged listeners & sharers, down to five or so who burned the bottom of the wick at 3 AM, listening, sharing.
There were no cell phones. There was no social media. Hoot Compilation 1 was recorded on a manual tape-recorder of some kind. My song on the compilation is utterly warped. My voice is raised in pitch. I rediscovered this compilation after almost two decades & didn’t care that the quality of the tape was often compromised. Why? You can hear the room. It’s holy. Listening in my dark bedroom to this long-ago, cult album, recorded poorly & with great love, I was transported back into that living room in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. You can hear people singing along. You can hear laughter, muttering, shouts. You can hear love.
I want to build a more-together-world. I want to water pausing. I love some documentation; it’s how I was able to connect with twenty-two year old Shira in a loving room. But I want to encourage discernment in my own documentation. Is constant documentation necessary? Is it possible it hinders presence? Is it possible it contributes to anxiety, distraction, & separation from other bodies in the room? I’m curious. What do you think reader?
I’ve decided, thanks to some wonderful encouragement, that I will now give you the option to have a paid subscription to my zine. For many reasons, mostly involving a desire for folks without the income to access it, I will still offer it for free. But this way, if you do have the means, you can actively & financially support my labor, gifts & time - which goes a long way for a working artist. I will always keep sledding (AKA making & sharing art). Your support pulls the sled so I can do so with more ease. Thank you so much for considering participating in this way.
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The self-portrait above is evidence of a together-moment. My cousin & I were up late one night, sitting at his kitchen table. This was pre-phone addictions (*raising hand* first to admit I have one) & pre-social media. We were weaving our way through talking & drawing, the conversation quieting & expanding as we moved our hands, creating in company.
A together-moment can be defined as an undistracted stretch of cell phone-&-social-media-free time where you are in connected presence with someone (or something.)
What is one piece of evidence you have of a together-moment? I’d love to know.
You’re welcome to leave it in the comments. If it’s visual or sonic, feel free to link to it.
This January ISL cohort have had a month-long inside joke about Held, Held & Held, Attorneys at Law. We’ve asked ourselves: what has made us feel not only held, but held, held, and held?
I feel held when I’m observant, embodied, noticing. That’s when the eye-less brow in the photo above found me. Mid-walk. I felt captivated. Same with the gentleman in the blue-green-neon of that Manhattan window. He was pausing, shirtless, in the huge window to smoke a cigarette after exercising on his bike. The red bulb of his cigarette glowed. The peace of his being emanated, reaching me all the way down some floors below. To know that so many other beings are doing the best they can, moment by moment, makes me feel triply held.
Perhaps that’s what also defines a togetherness-moment. Not that it has to even be between two humans. You can experience it by yourself on a walk. You turn your attention to the ordinary, the tattered, the private, the imperfect. You are the witnessing. The world is rich & almost still. You feel held, held, and held.
With ample maple syrup,