Monday, July 8, 2019

Hannah Kezema : On Writing and Doing Nothing

Franz Kafka once said that in order to write, he needed a solitude like death. I, too, have a deep need to be submerged in a dim room, quiet, with the closed door. The conditions must unfortunately be ideal in that I will have no excuse not to write. And yet, this rarely happens, and I don’t have a desk. My desk became an altar for my late father years ago and I haven’t had the heart to clear it since.

My desk is lately a kitchen table or my own lap. I’d be lying if I said I had a writing routine, but I’m always thinking about the idea of having a writing routine. I’ve never been a morning person. The only time I was a morning person was last November, when I attended my first artist residency in Finland. I spent one month on a small, remote land, surrounded by birch forests, lakes, and swans. The days grew increasingly darker and because for the first time in my life I had nowhere I needed to be, and nothing I needed to do, except focus on my own work, I began to wake early.

The sun wouldn’t rise until after 9:00 a.m., and at about 6:00 a.m., I’d walk downstairs to the kitchen with its walls painted like a swirling milky way, close the door, turn on a light, and boil water. I’d scoop yogurt into a bowl, sprinkle granola on top, and drink maté at the table by the window while watching the smoke billow from the chimney of the house across the street. Sometimes another resident, an even earlier riser, would also be in the kitchen, and we’d speak to one another softly about the weather, or our work, or how we were feeling. Sometimes I’d wake up immediately ready to work and bring my breakfast back to my room. We were all given studios to use, but I only worked in the studio for one day during my stay when unexpectedly, one morning, a man appeared in front of my window. I was relieved to learn he was cleaning the gutters.

Immersion connects us back to ourselves. I find I produce in intensive spurts, spread out over a vast field. Months could pass without my writing anything but maybe dreams. I find if I try to write or make art every day, I begin to resent it, or worse, I feel there is nothing left to say. I’m a firm believer in incubation. An idea, for me, must marinade across different thought processes; it must stick. That is to say I don’t cherish any one idea. I look at each idea skeptically. I will interrogate the idea until it is busting at the seams. And then I know I’m ready to write.

In the clutches of capitalism, we’re always confronted with the prioritization of productivity over individualistic interests, so I almost never relax. When I work, I’m almost wholly devoted to the task at hand, and when I’m distracted at work, I’m distracted by trivial things. It’s taken me almost 30 years of living to realize that I need, if only 10 short minutes, to do completely nothing every day. If I were more confident in my consistency, I might call this meditation. Water is also essential to my faculty of thinking. I’ve had some of my best ideas while in the bath or shower, or while washing the dishes. There’s an incredible amount of insight to be find in these transitory moments within ourselves, and it can be difficult to allow these lapses that might guise themselves as something else: boredom, lethargy, guilt, vulnerability. But the work touches this all closely, I think.

I’ve always believed that the work doesn’t need us. To make art takes us outside of the body. I tend to follow what comes and try to avoid plans. A lot of my work has been unplanned in this way—with my first full-length, (where the light can’t reach), I found myself doing divinatory translations of Henri Michaux’s asemic drawings, channeling and montaging narrative fragments, and writing what I can only really describe as ghost-poems. Expansive, big-lung poems in negative space, like an erasure but written in reverse. While in Finland, I finished the draft to my second full-length, A Diviner’s Notebook, where I found myself writing about and through my deceased, psychic great-great Aunt, who I’ve never even met. I also dove deeper into my own divinatory practice as a tarot reader, which over the years, has entwined itself with my writing practice. Tarot reveals to us our own doing.

Crystals are generative instruments for writing and can be powerful healers. I think it’s important that we provide ourselves with whatever support we may need when we create. I was not always this way and had a longstanding theory about the urgency that comes from writing on an empty stomach. I’ve since learned the benefits of a comfortable space, a hot cup of tea. I personally take a lot of breaks if I’m feeling stuck. I stretch or walk. Get on the floor with my cat and listen to the birds. Stepping outside of the writing, as well as the liminal thinking stages of the writing, are absolutely essential to the writing. Reading as many books as I can is equally important, not because I feel this obligation to be well-read but because I just need to get out of my own head sometimes.

Whenever I read a good poem, or paragraph, or book, I’m reminded of why I write at all. It’s a kind of touching of the soul-memory. The writing can course like blood, it can soothe, or it can cut and sting in a way that tears your world apart, but we do, I think, return to the body. I don’t shame myself for not writing, or not reading, but this I’ve also had to learn. Maybe one day I will have a steady writing practice. I almost hope I don’t.

Hannah Kezema is an artist who works across mediums. She is the author of the chapbook, three (2017, Tea and Tattered Pages), and her work appears or is forthcoming from Black Sun LitFull StopSpiral Orb, Emergency IndexGesture, and other places. She was the 2018 Arteles Resident of the Enter Text program in Haukijärvi, Finland, where she worked on her manuscript, A Diviner’s Notebook, which investigates ancestral absences, divinatory praxis, and female occult figures. Along with Angel Dominguez, she co-founded the performance art collaborative DREAM TIGERS in 2014, which experiments with time, process, and hybrid modes.

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