“Out of a deep cut, opened in a biography, a new being comes into the world,” writes French philosopher, Catherine Malabou, in the book I am currently devouring, The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity.
When my world crumbled six years ago, I began rebuilding almost immediately. I thought it was a restoration of the outside elements of life: money, house, another relationship. But now I see that it was an inner remodel I was working on.
First there was an initial expulsion of my former self. I was completely altered after loss–unrecognizable to myself. I began to dismantle what I was left with, to try and become a person who could make sense of the world again. Because of this, the outside structures I attempted to build during those years, inevitably fell. They had to. Because they couldn’t contain a person who was unraveling and unraveling and unraveling.
The imminent humanist geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan, speaks of place as a reference to security and space as a reference to freedom. I longed for place during those years, for security, for an inhabited way of life, something known, something familiar, without realizing that I needed to embrace space, a constraintless sense of the world within myself, in order to create a new understanding of place.
It was terrifying.
And then I went to Wales. To arrive in a new place, mid-way through life, and to explore its crevices, both spatial and cultural, became a far more interior experience than I would have expected. I guess I was ready to let go of the security I longed for, a known place in the world, and focus on the wide expanse of space–the space within myself.
There is a part of Aberystwyth that I call the tunnel. It’s a long narrow park where no cars can enter. I walk my dog through it most days and when we get to the other side, we are at the gate of the town cemetery.
A tunnel is akin to a distinct type of road. Currently, as part of my PhD work, I’m writing a collection of linked shorts that explore the image of a dirt road in rural Vermont where four houses are situated, all of which the narrator has lived in. Within each house, there are certain things that can or cannot exist. For example, in one house, there are no dreams. In another, no memories. The narrator cannot orient herself or survive in these houses where parts of herself can’t live. And so she is compelled to journey out into an unknown space beyond the road.
I always feel like I’m on that dirt road in Vermont when I walk through the tunnel-like park in Aberystwyth. It’s a bridge between the outside world of cars and noise, to the stillness of the cemetery. I can think freely on the connective piece of land, as the narrator in my work can think freely on the road between the houses. They are in-betweens on a map, essential locations that unlock understanding, because they belong to no particular place.
On a map of Aberystwyth, I notice what’s important to me. There’s Spar, where I buy bottled water and toilet paper, The Treehouse, where I buy organic eggs and wine, Claireverly’s, where the lovely Catrina does my hair, the “prom,” or seafront, where Beesly and I walk in the evenings. I orient myself in tangible space, but I don’t become attached. I am a cut out figure who moves in a superimposed way across the map.
The cut in my biography happened six years ago. Loss was the catalyst, but the severing of my self from myself was the event. It was the beginning of my own dismantling, coupled with the desperate desire to rebuild. It was the eviction of self that French feminist writer, Hélène Cixious, speaks about. “When an event arrives which evicts us from ourselves, we do not know how to ‘live.’ But we must.” I really didn’t know how to live. But I had to learn.
“My true life starts with an end.” ~Antoni Casas Ros (Le Théorème d’Almodovar)
This year in Wales has been like the park in Aberystwyth, like the dirt road in rural Vermont. It’s been a bridge in my understanding, a connective piece of land where I’ve been able to unlock deeper truths about myself. As my first year in Wales comes to an end, and I move away from this connective time, I can feel my true life beginning. The restoration of outside elements is proceeding: I just passed the first level of my research and writing and will move on to the second year of my PhD, yes, but the hardest work for me happened this year in the interiority of space.