if failure were a colour

I’m pretty mad at myself today (well, technically it’s no longer ‘today’ but Friday just after midnight). I was supposed to be in the city for Midsumma to play Bartók folk songs on my melodica as a ‘temptation’ for a performance/reading I’ll be doing later in the month.

The problem with afflictions like heatstroke, is they can’t be reasoned or argued with. I’d driven down from outside Castlemaine, and thought it was air pressure changes that caused me to momentarily get dizzy. I’d deliberately not practised too much on the melodica so that I wouldn’t be puffed out. I’m physically fit enough for that to not happen. Halfway into the city from my parents’ place, I turned back, told my father what happened and went to bed for a few hours. We’re both migraine-prone, so I rested on his advice, had dinner, and I feel oddly naked without any of the books I’m in the midst of reading.

Zine reading time. Tonight’s zine is ‘Tenderness Journal’, a largely visual art-based project from 2015 that Clara Bradley curated. It turned out we had a friend in common – I didn’t know this till attending the exhibition/launch at Grey Gardens Project that year. I submitted a sonnet – imaginings on longing and grieving the loss of love, both offline and online. It’s weird to think that that has become something to define, document, experience, in my lifetime.

The post title – I was thinking about how much of a failure I felt at not making it into the city to play my instrument, and how if failure were a colour, it would definitely not be a pastel anything! I love pastel colours, and was also reminding myself of how slow I was to pick that the cover of ‘Tenderness’ has bare breasts. It wasn’t till quite some after that I noticed that?!

What am I drinking? I’m deliberately avoiding alcohol because at the beginning of my week, my mood dipped a bit, and it’s usually not a good idea to console oneself with central nervous system depressant anything, so I’ve just been gulping down strong yet milky mugs of T2 French Earl Grey, which is…okay. The leaves are far too dry, and the supermarket spoils me by having a fresher British organic one which I do plough through.

It’s not a pleasant reminder to read ‘Tenderness’ because I was unwell, but functional, and everything felt stained with the ache of surviving. At times, I remember looking okay – fine, even, but struggling desperately to stay mentally afloat. It was probably harder because I wasn’t doing it for my sole benefit. An ex-housemate knew that occasionally I muffled my bawling to sleep with my pillow. My partner at the time knew I drank too much to help me sleep, but didn’t realise that his default belief in entitlement to existing made it near-impossible to contemplate getting well. Living for him…it was automatic, easy, it happened so effortlessly. I had disparate areas of life that were all so spectacular in how awful I was in them. I tried so hard too, and barely did anything well.

Perhaps that’s not how it seemed, or was, but that was how it was experienced. At outsider ‘presenting’ an inauthentic life but somehow not being caught out. ‘Tenderness’ seems to encroach in these spaces, where the vulnerabilities of honesty and adoration exist, admit themselves to exist, and – if tenderness were music, it would be a cadence that threatens to resolve its dissonance, but doesn’t. It just – leaves you hanging, longing for its resolution.

The visual art captures this in its recording of textures – cotton long johns, where the shape of male genitalia is discernible and alluring because it is not able to be seen, we only get hints. Writings on what falling in love is like and how it differs from loving – it only ever seems clear that we’ve fallen in love once it is not reflected back at us.

My cat has come back and is now sleeping on my bed. When I think of tenderness and its sort of love, I think a lot about my cat – how when I first met her, she belonged to someone else. We were both emotional orphans of a sort! She touches her paw to my hand, often. I brush the tip of my nose against the velvet of her ears. I feel loved in a way I no longer expect from another human. Perhaps true tenderness is safety and sanctuary.

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