Painful Objects

Collective Narrative

Assignment: Create a narrative experience centered around a single or several objects.

Something happens to me when I hurt myself in my own home. I temporarily become blind with rage. I’m angry at myself. I’m furious at the object. If I can pin the incident on someone else, I’m furious at them, too.

I can’t control this lizard brain. And it scares me that I can instantly become so unlike myself. I decided to catalog the objects in my home that have ever caused me physical pain. Mostly it’s an exercise in data collection. But maybe reliving some of these painful moments will better prepare me for the next one.

It should come as no surprise that the inspiration for this list was a stubbed toe.

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The Kitchen

Cabinet Door:
3+ offenses

Whenever I’m stooped over the garbage can or the kitchen sink and a cabinet door is left open, I’m destined to hit my head on it when I straighten up. Because Max is more likely to leave the cabinet doors open, he is also more likely to be the object of my fury. The last time this happened I screamed FUCK and Max thought that I had really seriously hurt myself, but when he called out to see if I was okay I was too angry to speak. Even when he ran in to check on me I still couldn’t say anything. It was only as the pain subsided that I could ungrit my teeth and apologize.

Pain Scale: 9/10
Expletives? FUCK.
Worth it to remove the object? No. Cabinets need doors.

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Stove top/Oven:
3+ offenses

Even though it’s not unusual to burn myself cooking, my lizard brain doesn’t kick in when this happens. Is it because the pain isn’t instantaneous? Burning pain always takes a second to register. When I burn myself I don’t usually feel anger at all. It’s either self-pity or just a stoic acceptance. Oven burns are badges of honor in the quest to adulthood.

Pain Scale: 5/10
Expletives? Muttered
Worth it to remove the object? No. The stove giveth way more than the stove taketh away.

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Teapot:
~1 offense

When I was making myself pour over coffee I accidentally splashed boiling water. Fortunately the water hit the countertop before hitting me so the injury was mild.

Pain Scale: 2/10
Expletives? None
Worth it to remove the object? Not the teapot’s fault. I’m all squared with the teapot.

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The Living Room

Binder clip:
~1 offense

My boyfriend Max is a teacher so there are binder clips all over the fucking apartment. I’ve done a good job of avoiding them but I stepped squarely on one the other day. Fortunately its irregular shape seemed to disperse the pain, and no expletives were uttered. I think a good indicator of pain intensity is presence/absence of expletives. I think I’m going to go back and add that as a category.

Pain Scale: 1/10
Expletives? None
Worth it to remove the object? Even though I’m petty enough to trash the binder clip just to get back at it, the pain just didn’t warrant its removal.

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Coffee Table:
3+ offenses

I’ve had multiple run-ins with this coffee table, and the last one was the worst. I actually broke my pinky toe on this thing while I was pacing around the apartment taking a phone call. The pain was so intense that I was unable to experience anger, or any other lizard brain emotion. My pinky toe is still a little crooked from the incident.

Pain Scale: 10/10
Expletives? Hard to recall. Mostly sobs.
Worth it to remove the object? While I didn’t get rid of the coffee table, I did repurpose it as a TV stand so now it’s in an area of the apartment that’s virtually un-stubbable.

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Rocking Chair:
~1 offense

Stubbed my toe while vacuuming. The pain was short-lived.

Pain Scale: 2/10
Expletives? None
Worth it to remove the object? Definitely not. The chair was my abuela’s and has huge sentimental value. I think the chair would need to tackle me in my sleep in order for me to get rid of it.

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Couch:
~2 offenses

Stub my toe on this thing occasionally. The nice thing about it is that I can immediately collapse on the couch to recover.

Pain Scale: 3/10
Expletives? Not that I recall.
Worth it to remove the object? No. I need a couch, and I have the feeling that any other couch would offer similar opportunities for stubbing.

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Bathroom:

Medicine Cabinet Door
~1 offense

Very similar the kitchen cabinet scenario, but the pain isn’t as bad because there’s less distance between the sink and the cabinet door (so there’s less time to gather up speed before impact). In some ways more frustrating because then I’m forced to look at my pissed off reflection immediately after the incident.

Pain Scale: 6/10
Expletives? Fuck
Worth it to remove the object? No.

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Sink and Bathroom faucets
~1 offense each

When I dye my hair I’ll rinse it out directly under the faucet, and I’ve hit my head on the faucet trying to extricate myself. Again, not much distance between me and the faucets so the pain isn’t so bad, but hair-dyeing can be such an ordeal that it’s hard not the take the injury personally.

Pain Scale: 2/10
Expletives? Yes
Worth it to remove the object? Neither possible, nor worth it.

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Toilet Bowl
~1 offense

This one’s a little foggy, but in the middle of the night I ended up sitting on the toilet when its seat got left up. I think I was a little drunk at the time. This didn’t hurt too badly, just the hard impact of mis-judging the distance between my ass and the surface below. I think my buzz smoothed most of my anger/frustration/shame. No anger towards Max because he never ever ever leaves the toilet seat up. I probably left it up while I was cleaning the toilet or something. I have strong feelings about the seat getting left up. I wish I didn’t because I’m pretty sure every other article on Breitbart reads something like “Women March on Washington because Poor Dude Left the Seat Up”. See this fucking article. Or don’t see it because your day was probably bad enough already.

Pain Scale: 1/10
Expletives. No. But fuck Breitbart.
Worth it to remove the object? Obviously not.

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The Bedroom

Cactus:
3+ offenses

The thing was potted poorly and leaned to one side. Whenever I watered it, it would fall off the sill and land on my bare feet.

Pain Scale: 4/10
Expletives? Probably
Worth it to remove the object? Eventually I stopped watering the thing out of spite. When it looked to be about 75% dead I threw it out.

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Seashell Necklace:
3+ offenses

This ended up on the floor when I was moving a bunch of stuff around and I keep stepping on it. Every time I do, another delicate seashell breaks beneath my feet. This makes me sad because the necklace definitely belonged to mom/abuela/tia. Also they probably bought it on the Island aka Puerto Rico aka the Homeland. This wasn’t some mass-produced thing, someone painstakingly collected and threaded these little baby seashells onto the necklace. It’s still lying on the floor along with little seashell shards because I can’t bring myself to examine it and see exactly what condition it’s in.

Pain Scale: 1/10
Emotional Pain Scale: 7/10
Expletives: Sad expletives.
Worth it to remove the object? Even if it’s broken, I’m not going to be able to throw it away right now. I’ll put it in a dark place and falsely promise myself I’m going to fix it, until the next time I find it again.

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Bedframe:
3+ offenses

Always sucks to stub your toe right as you’re about to go to bed. As with the couch, at least I have a soft place to writhe on. Also maybe worth it to mention that when I was hauling the frame around on a giant cart in the IKEA parking lot, I hit a curb and slammed my shin into one of the boxes. The bruise lasted about 2 weeks.

Pain Scale: 3/10-7/10
Expletives: Here and there.
Worth it to remove the object? No. This MALM ikea bed frame with two storage boxes cost me blood, sweat, tears and 250 dollars. The bed frame stays.

“The Thought of You”

Collective Narrative

Assignment: Create a short sound piece in 2-4 parts.  In your approach, you may offer different perspectives on a single subject, or use multiple voices or different components to complete a single narrative.

For this assignment, I decided to write an absurd song with my boyfriend. I wrote the lyrics out beforehand but the melody was mostly improvised (apologies for the vocal mis-steps, as soon as I know I’m being recorded I get the yips and lose the ability to hit notes). Many thanks to Max Chomet for his contributions on guitar, as well as being an obliging performer in this audio drama.

Site-Specific Story

Collective Narrative

Assignment: Create a narrative experience centered around location.

For this assignment, the “site-specific” location I chose was the kitchen, where I recorded a kind of cooking show podcast episode. Full disclosure: I can barely cook, but I use the show as a framing device to talk about my abuela.

The podcast is about 40 minutes long, and I intend to update this blog post with a more comprehensive breakdown of what I’m talking about when. But if you’re not interested in the cooking process at all, the main storytelling part begins at 21:45 and continues through to the end.

Posthumous Portraiture Exhibit

Collective Narrative

Assignment:
Visit the Posthumous Portraiture Exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum

We cannot help but hear them whisper through the years, “remember me”

Reading the exhibit’s description in the main hall, I was immediately made uncomfortable by this claim above. I’m sure the writer had benign intent, but projecting desires onto the dead rankles me. Dead children even more so. How arrogant to presume what these children would want. And frankly, the thought of these children peering at me from some alternate plane, longing, pleading to be remembered, is disturbing. I don’t believe in alternate planes, but I would hope that the people in them be blissfully unconcerned with the contents of museums here on earth.

I was off to a sour start, but this is not to say I didn’t take away anything valuable from the exhibit. In the paintings, much of the imagery was what you’d expect–birds both alive and dead, trees both alive and dead, drooping fauna, timepieces. However, the recurring image of a child missing a shoe was a sad/interesting way to show that they were no longer tethered to the earth. A non-recurring image that I thought was particularly affecting was that of a young boy tugging on a dog’s ear. Many of the portraits appear stiff (though it’s hard to blame the artists when they were literally drawing from corpses) but deciding to depict that slice of life was a strong choice.

Unknown Child Holding Doll and Shoe, Attributed to George G. Hartwell (1815–1901)

My favorite paintings were ones that showed some action taking place (like tugging a dog’s ear or batting a shuttlecock). I also appreciated when they presented artifacts alongside the painting; for example, the curators managed to get ahold of a few of the toys that were actually featured in one of the paintings. There was another portrait that was presented next to a daguerrotype of a woman holding that very portrait in her arms. These portraits weren’t made for a museum or a gallery–they were made for grieving families.

Installation view of the 19th-century posthumous paintings of Mary and Francis Wilcox, with the toys they’re pictured with (photo by Allison Meier)

There was something else on the information plaque that I didn’t mention before, but really brought it home for me:

We presume stoic acceptance [of the families] at a time when infant mortality was one in four [but] we cannot judge the depth of another’s pain from the remove of centuries.

I know I’ve had the misconception that people in the 1800s excelled at enduring these sorts of hardships; that they were inured to feelings of loss. But the fact is that these mothers and fathers grieved plenty. In Claudia Emerson’s book “Secure the Shadow” (for which the exhibit was named), she tells of a mother unable to part with her dead child for nine days. On the ninth day, they took the posthumous photograph. It’s wrong to think that the owners of such photos were steeled against death. To us, it might seem macabre to pose for a photo with your dead child, but it makes a lot more sense if there exist no other photos of the two of you together. But it’s still hard to imagine taking comfort in them. It was heartbreaking to see how a dead child could look so much like a sleeping one.

Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of his wife weeping over their daughter

Hourly Comic

Collective Narrative

Assignment: Every hour, stop and document what you’re doing at exactly that moment. Do this for an entire day.

11:30am
I’m hosting my birthday party and my place tonight and this is the current state of my apartment:


12:30pm
In the past hour I’ve nudged a few pieces of trash nearer to the trash bin and feebly put some dishes in the sink. I am in serious need of pump up music, so I listen to the Indie classic, “Lisztomania”

1:30pm
Brunch with mom at our usual place, Cowgirl Seahorse. Mom has some self-professed verbal dyslexia so she usually calls it “Seagirl Cowhorse”, but today she gets it mostly right with “Cowgirl Seawhore”

2:30pm
I go to the supermarket to pick up beers for the party. Paradox of choice.

3:30pm

4:30pm
The first sound is me mopping a stubborn bike tire track. The second is me chasing a piece of dry spaghetti with my vacuum cleaner.

5:30pm

6:30pm

7:30
My party starts in 30 minutes but EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME WHYYYY

8:30
No one’s arrived yet so my boyfriend entertains me by juggling limes.


9:30 and 10:30pm
For my birthday I’m hosting a “Bad Movie Night”–a movie that is so awful it’s actually entertaining to watch. We’ve chosen “Garzey’s Wing”, a low-budget anime film. The characters are basically all voiced by the same two people, one of whom sounds like Lisa Kudrow on horse tranquilizers. This point in the evening I decided to cheat on the assignment and have some of my friends make sketches for me. The 9:30 sketch is by Brian Garvey, who’s trying to capture the anticipation of Garzey’s Wing (we still hadn’t started the movie). The 10:30 sketch is by Lindsey Daniels, who’s trying to capture our utter confusion (like, are they going to Gabajuju? or is a character named Gabajuju? or is Gabajuju a weapon?? etc.)


11:30pm
This is another one of my sketches. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but basically my mom has asked me to store a monstrous chair in my apartment (wider than my couch and almost as long). I’m supposed to hold onto this thing until she makes room for it in her apartment. (I feel like I’m representing my mom in a bad light here and I just want to say that in all other respects she is an awesome lady.) Anyway, here’s the chair, and my friend Eddie sitting atop it.

12:30am
This sketch is by my friend Rita. The aforementioned Lindsey introduced us to a reality show called “Solitary” where contestants are literally put in solitary confinement. People are disturbed by this and there is a mass exodus from my apartment. Lindsey is apologetic.

1:30am
I own mugs with feminist messages written in French (a fact unsurprising to anyone who knows me). I don’t really get the full meaning of “Femme de l’etre” though. At any rate, by 1:30am everyone’s left and Max and I are drinking tea.

2:30am
Max has fallen asleep. This is what the apartment looks like post-party.

Final Thoughts:
When Marianne gave us this assignment, I was worried that this exercise in introspection would drive me irreversibly to madness. But I actually liked making little doodles all day long. I don’t think that the assignment really changed the course of my day, because I was going to be eating, shopping, cleaning and partying regardless. Furthermore, the assignment was less disruptive than I thought it would be. In the morning I was worried that every time I stopped to document something I would lose all of my cleaning momentum, but actually I think the breaks were somewhat restorative and helped propel me toward my goal. As an aside, I don’t really enjoy taking photographs in my day to day life (you’ll note there are no actual photographs from the party), but having my friends create a few sketches gave me nice momentos from the evening that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.