W4M
May 31 2020

This is an excerpt from a conversation between Matthew S. Witkovsky, curator, and Moyra Davey, writer, photographer and filmmaker, of whom I have become increasingly fond. (The underline is mine.)

MW: You’ve quoted a line from Jean Genet, saying I’m fifty and I look like sixty, and I think that’s fabulous.

MD: He says, I’m not ashamed.

MW: Right, and he’s writing to this young man, Java.

MD: His former lover. And he adds, “I even find it rather restful.”

MW: Yes, I’m amazed I forgot that bit of the quote, because it is beautiful. Restful: what a perfect word. A whole lot of youthful energy is expended in making oneself presentable.

I read it in an issue of Aperture recently. The issue, published in winter 2014 and not so recent itself, is named Lit.

Thinking of age: I was 26 in 2014. Had I chanced on this magazine then, I would probably purchase a copy and place it on my coffee table. And I would wait for the guests to pick it up before a dinner party.

(“It’s a play on lit-erature.” “They know we know.” “And they want us to get it.” “Hahaha.”)

I was interested in photography in a way that anyone who had an Instagram account was interested in photography. I was skilled in cropping and rotating. I knew how much to adjust the brightness and contrast. I was familiar with the faded look, the Sunday feel, the melancholic summer mood with a green mid-tone.

Screens:

I lived in a world of them.

(I still do.)

I made things for them, designing websites and interfaces.

I made myself presentable through them.

(Now I think: to whom?)

Images were pixels — reproduced by, manipulated as, viewed in pixels.

I took that as a fact of life.

That same winter I traveled to an island and asked a boy to love me.

He said he couldn’t.

I cried.

We kissed.

Things must happen in this order.

I took that as another fact.

*

I have used a few phrases frequently since I turned 30 short of two years ago:

when you are young

when I was young

in my youth

E.G. When you are young there seems to be only one direction, which is forward.

A friend calls me an age-ist.

I laugh in agreement.

Don’t you feel a bit pretentious, he says, you are not that old and I am not that young.

I guess I have come across as patronizing.

It was never my intention.

I apologize and consider an elaboration.

*

In the novel The History of Love, the protagonist recalls an exchange in his late teens. The voices of two young lovers merge in his memory:

If I had a camera, I said, I’d take a picture of you every day. That way I’d remember how you looked every single day of your life. I look the same. No, you don’t. You’re changing all the time. Every day a tiny bit. If I could, I’d keep a record of it all. If you’re so smart, how did I change today? You got a fraction of a millimeter taller, for one thing. Your hair grew a fraction of a millimeter longer. And your breasts grew a fraction of a— They did not! Yes, they did. What else, you big pig? You got a little happier and also a little sadder. How do you know? Think about it. Have you ever been happier than right now? I guess not. And have you ever been sadder than right now? No. It isn’t like that for everyone. Some people just get happier and happier. And some people, like Beyla Asch, get sadder and sadder. What about you? Are you the happiest and saddest right now that you’ve ever been? Of course I am. Why? Because nothing makes me happier and nothing makes me sadder than you.

I think back to the times when emotions were novel and — because of that novelty — were not only self-explanatory but provided explanations for other things:

the day my crush in elementary school wrote me a note

the day I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in nine consecutive hours

the day my friend let go of my arm and said she was no longer my friend

This is the start this is the end this is going to be the most important day in my life this is meaningful this is meaning this is everything this changed me this changed the world nothing is ever the same anymore I will feel this way forever

I was quite convinced about how the world works.

Then, one day, I stopped growing taller.

*

In 2012 and 2013, I posted to the Missed Connections section on Craigslist, provoked by instances of unreciprocated love.* I always chose to post under the category W4M, a crude shorthand for “Woman for Man”.

I wrote impressionist proses:

Outside of the car everything was golden again like that spring day when I walked into the translucent shades of newly budded branches. It is fall now — the golden has aged. I looked at the passing stop signs. I thought it was a beautiful day. When you became part of it I was surprised. The same kind of surprise as I took the train from one island to another that winter — only to discover there was no distance between the snow and the sea.

To innocent strangers, I hummed my song. I walked by the burnt house, my gaze hollowed. Someone had died in a fire. The soundless sirens, their bright red woe. You were full and real, but now only a thin nostalgia. Invisible, I lay in silence. I could not force myself into your dream.

I spent hours and hours at the lakeshore collecting pieces of glass washed over by time. Rounded edges, foggy, muted. Like the air we shared on that warm afternoon. I don’t remember if you were holding a book. Words can be meaningless, sometimes, but what a comfort they are.

Strangers replied.

What was that?

I was moved by your post. I read it multiple times tonight. I relate to the pain that you’re feeling because of my own difficulties in moving forward without the person who meant all things to me. The middle of the night is the worst time for me because of her presence in my world of dreams. So I read CL and search for kindred spirits out there — thus my email at 4am.

hi…………………..hows your search?

A few people commented on my writing. One said I should consider becoming a writer if I was not already one.

I never wrote back to any of them.

I was flattered in the transience and anonymity of the internet.

And I hoped for miracles.

Then came a stranger’s email bearing no capitalization, no punctuation, no other words but —

i love you

It was neither miraculous nor magical.

I felt disappointed.

I did not know I was looking for acceptance, and I did not know I was looking for it in emptiness.

*

From Janet Malcolm, critic and journalist, in the same Lit. issue:

I began writing about photography with the spurious authority of the young.

(Again, my underline.)

I exercised my spurious authority without knowing.

I wonder when I started to notice that.

There is no single eureka, I conclude.

Many happenings (and non-happenings) have contributed. I give credit to: therapy, traveling, re-starting life in a new country, learning to make films, reading.

Happenings (and non-happenings) take time.

Time takes place in age.

Age accompanies realizations.

Realizations:

For a good while, I was unable to write about my struggles. When I attempted, I wrote as if they were afterthoughts — cool, collected and cryptic.

Unconsiously, I was writing elegies for the time I lost in pretending that everything was — and that I was — alright.

I thought I was taking refuge in hiding — behind the screens, and sometimes in front of it, too.

It turns out that I mistook shame for freedom.

Images are not mere pixels.

I feel compelled to differentiate one age from another. Whenever I speak of the past, I become aware of the causality I once fervently believed and of the dissolution of its inevitability.

I no longer construct the same narratives.

Should I write the story now:

I traveled to an island and asked the boy —

Do you love yourself?

He couldn’t answer. Do you? He asked back.

Yes.

In his silence, I said, take your time, I will leave you to it.

Write me about your discoveries, I gave him a hug and left with the next boat.

*

When I was young, I was certain about people and life.

Now I am a bit older, and I am a bit more wrong.


*I am reluctant to use the word “love” here because of the limited perspectives of love engendered by romanticism. I accept the expression of “unreciprocated love” as one interpretation of what love can, but should not be reduced to, entail. After all, love is a word of multitudes.

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