On 5 June 2016 at 11:33 Naomi Pearce wrote:
Lucy was worried this complex ecology shed been nurturing might stop functioning or turn toxic.
Documentary meets re-enactment becomes fiction. Whatever this film is, it feels invasive. A series of interrogations, repeated voluntary and involuntary acts that breach borders, hands learn to frisk, doctors run tests, a woman describes unknown fibres breaking through her skin.
... So again, we are writing to each other about women under the influence.
FB (Female Bouncer) is our protagonist and the face we look at the most. Christa manages The Healing Grapevine, a support group cum online quackery offering natural remedies for those suffering from unknown infestations.
Lucy gave Christa a name and with it agency.She manages pain into product, doing emotional labour all the time, tapping into her own traumatic experiences as resource and securing customers through identification: I know many of u have doubted yourselves, as I did. Christa wont give u
a cure but she will give u access to another way of surviving: community.
Have you seen The Passion of Joan of Arc? FB displays the same suffering look depicted on Renee Falconettis face. See the way her scalped head tilts back, jaw gesturing to the left, eyes searching, transfigured. Rumor has it The Passions... director was a sadist, inflicting pain in order to capture it. More sad female biography: Falconetti suffered from mental illness throughout her life, eventually committing suicide in 1946.
Its a silent film, Falconetti has no words. And yet diagnosis relies upon our ability to give appropriate narratives to the body, to find the right words.
Unlike disease which doctors tell us we have, illness is a feeling, something inward, only accessible to the patient, an underworld of experience.
Ive been looking back through our old emails, not the good ones, the ones from after we spent those nights together. Something is clearly misfiring. Its as if all that physical closeness shortcircuited our discourse, we stopped encountering one another in ways that we could understand. Maybe this new found bodily knowledge broke our brains.
Last week we crushed so hard on Maggie Nelson. Eating dough sticks and drinking white wine, your words ran in me. I took this transfusion. On the tube home writing notes on my phone, revived and nourished, high from the encounter of our thoughts. Sometimes when we talk its physical concepts become shapes moving in space, words wrestle into arguments, our minds lock together. An alchemy that gives off heat.
Love always, Nx
On 6 June 2016 at 14:21 Alice Hattrick wrote:
Ive been in bed all day. Unclean hair unclean skin. Under my arms sticking to themselves. A bad smell coming from the rotting tulips she gave him for his birthday. Storm coming. The tightness in my chest making me aware of my body. Just like perfume makes me aware of the air surrounding it and inside it, air in its mixed and threatening form mixing up inside me, contaminated air. Toxic.
I thought about my Mum when I read that essay Lucy sent us:
you will find it institutionally, in the form of welfare disputes or dismissals from employment; interpersonally in the breakdown of trust and respect in a marriage; psychologically in the self-doubt and depression of an ill person who lacks an approved way of deciphering the way they feel in their body.
(failed marriage followed by endless series of failed relationships, failed / late education, signed off work, passed on illness to her daughter, probably about to be red for being ill, etc. etc.
She thinks sick, lives a sick life.
THE PRESENTATION SCENE: I remember mum and I went to one about this magical new form of therapy for M.E. when I was a teenager at the Quaker meeting house in Brighton. It was about tailored forms of therapy, but it was all a secret so no one could just do it themselves. It was presented by people in recovery, who had got better enough to stand up and persuade people it could work for them too. Anyone else would be untrustworthy, right? As far as we could tell it was basically CBT with stuff like graded exercise thrown in (before CBT was prescribed by the NHS, if you can wait long enough). Mum and I were skeptical. I think we only went to call it out as bullshit. Mark ourselves out as different from all the crazies on forums all day and not leaving the house and sending hate mail to anyone who said M.E. wasnt a real illness. We were not the only mother/daughter couples at the Quaker meeting house that day (the family home as site of contagion). We were alone together. She takes her to-do lists with her to her (subsidised) therapist she sees now. Signed off work. New drugs. Dont act agitated.
No one trusts doctors, but this mistrust is reflected back onto the patient. They start to distrust themselves. They lose words. FB has a good face.
Her inputs: mites, videos online, special water... No outputs (pain is language destroying).
On 6 June 2016 at 22:33 Naomi Pearce wrote:
What makes a sick life? A lifestyle, a diagnosis, a frame of mind? Bad luck or the influence of bad people? With my arthritis which has always just been there, distinctions have never been made. Health is abstract when pain is an everyday nuisance rather than total debilitation. It is always about managing and I dont mean just about managing, I mean more a case of organising, like a to do list: take painkillers, dont sit still too long, exercise etc.
What if, when faced with the feminine body, the cis body or maybe (fuck it) just woman in all its recorded glory: the books you read about periods, the paintings in museums, Irigaray, Cixous, Caitlyn and Queen B, the boys who wrote you poetry about your curves or your eyes, the girls who stopped eating at school, the empty space below your stomach that one day everyone assures you you will want to fill, in the aftermath of all these narratives and noise are our bodies not the most alien place to be?
You drew a heart on your copy of The Argonauts next to the line: *They seemed to make a fetish of the unsaid, rather than simply letting it be contained in the sayable*
Is this what Lucys film does? FBs disembodiments, her physical out of jointness destroy her language? I think I do the opposite, writing to articulate sensations a fumbling around to give form to feeling, if only that I might know it better, feel it stronger.
This film has many containers and they slot into each other like tupperware. The glass house hosts all: healing plants, volunteer gardeners, yogis and The Healing Grapevine meetings.
The smallest of non movements betrays FBs relaxedness: a quick crick of her neck on the door of the club, shes struggling to contain whats going on inside.
Theres a scene in the glasshouse where FB turns away from the stretching yoga bodies, she rejects this kind of embodiment. She attempts to understand her physicality to meet it as Acker says in her writing on bodybuilding through the distancing meditation of her iphone. Earphones go in, hands cup the screen, FB becomes immersed within a community who forgo presence to encounter one another online: The fibers have made a home in her face.
Christa by contrast is poised throughout. As she prepares to film a vlog post she asks her volunteers to fuss over her body, check her hair, her makeup. All the surface stuff.
Women find safety in numbers.
The final scene: FB gulping down energy medicine in the form of branded bottled water. Communities provide containers. Replace the i in illness with we and get wellness. Influence, as you know is such a messy and unrestricted process, like the way germs spread. The Healing Grapevine enables women to collaborate in their sickness through a shared discourse, this we gives a special kind of access: permission for total introspection.
This form of collective care seems incredibly nourishing. Is it the exchanging of money or its delusional foundations that make it toxic?
Lucy considered opening the film with an abortion. What could demonstrate bodily alienation more clearly than a woman rejecting her nature? Brain overriding, no home here.
Instead we have the beautiful looking word Pharmakon. Its stamped across the lush and vital green of the opening scene.
The pharmakon is at once what enables care to be taken and that of which care must be taken. Simply: a poison and a cure. Its power is curative to the immeasurable extent that it is also destructive.
On 7 June 2016 at 14:21 Alice Hattrick wrote:
Lucys film was going to start with an abortion, well so did my 2016.
I took the test an hour before people came over for dinner for NYE. I painted a beautiful writers fingernails gold,
had feelings in what felt like a different body (medicated, pregnant). Mouth shut praying NO ONE ASK ME ANYTHING ABOUT ME. Later his friend told me not to fuck up again and I walked off before I could say anything back. Dont worry,
I dont want to keep it.
I looked at the scan of it even though youre not supposed to. I liked the drama of the record. I even liked going to first appointment. It felt nice, to be cared for, and about. Do you have any questions? etc. Later, less so. There was lot of pain for such a tiny thing. But youve read that text already.
Now I have to rewrite a book proposal (again) to make it more about psychosomatic illness and perfume, or, even, just about my mother. Im thinking about good / bad objects, projection / introjection, to feeling unreal, to being / not being good enough, to the binaries contained by pharmakon(and Pharmakon).
Have decided to write quickly as you can probably tell (you think too much for the both of us). Will write more about thinking sick next time.
On 7 June 2016 at 21:17 Naomi Pearce wrote:
I so wanted you to have a baby even though it didnt make sense.
Maggie writes that even before we can speak our mothers police our mouths. Its this care that instils in us the conviction to continue living. Back in January, it was hard enough convincing yourself.
Im still on the pharmakon because (if its ok) I want to keep talking about having or not having babies.
Lucy tells me to read Bernard Stiegler: Hes written a lot about it she says. In What Makes Life Worth Living Stiegler opens with a passage about Donald Winnicott, apparently the transitional object is the first pharmakon.
The transitional object is a teddy bear or a blanket, something that allows the child to split from the mother and safely enter the world. Beneath this piece of cloth holds something that is neither an exterior space, nor simply internal to either the mother or child. Its the border to both:
The transitional object is the point of departure for the formation of a healthy psychic apparatus, and yet [...] dependence becomes harmful, that is, destructive of autonomy and trust.
The care that the mother takes of her child necessarily includes protecting them from this object: eventually she will have to teach them to let their blanket go.
Maggie describes her love affair with her infant son: A boyant eros, an eros without teleology. This purposeless love writes alternative narratives on the body, it isnt exactly yours anymore.
In her book On Immunity: An Inoculation Eula Biss writes: My sons birth brought with it an exaggerated sense of both my own power and my own powerlessness.
Watching now as my mum attempts to recalibrate (empty nest) having performed the role of host and carer since the age of 22. Four children and more decades later she is anxious, frustrated: I used to be able to do things. Filmmaking can be thought of as a form of care, one that questions and antagonises.
FB often looks frightened. Her job is to police and protect other bodies. What about her own?
On 8 June 2016 at 19:11 Alice Hattrick wrote:
What is it about touch, about skin? Like taste and smell, the chemical senses, its unreasonable, untrustworthy. Same goes for anything you feel in your body.
You have a child and you are suddenly more plugged into the air. into to everything else. all the inputs and outputs. everything became one or the other: hours of sleep; minutes of crying; ml of baby milk, baby massage oil...
For a long time i have not lived as an ill person, but yesterday I thought maybe thats not true. I am living a sick life. I dont know any other.
Inputs: emails from work, ngers (masturbation), tampon, antidepressant, eggs, bread (+ additives), coffee
Outputs: emails from bed, shit, wetness (is an orgasm an output?)
Side Effects of Medication: vivid dreams (i didnt have before); my palms sweat; my whole body sweats at night; so much it wakes me up.
Ppl were talking about what you need to say to get drugs the other night at dinner. That docs wont give you drugs if youre agitated. I sat quietly, nodded, yeah, thats what I heard. What they said was not inaccurate enough for me to say any different.
I cant read our emails, the ones between you and me. its upsetting too much not worked out / spilling over / too much still not worked out / wanting to be next to you, walking into spaces with you. Enjoying how you write, how you walk on your own.
Pharmakon (2016) explores health anxiety and self diagnosis in an era of mass communication. The film engages with marginal communities that seek support via online networks. The Healing Grapevine provides care and conversely intensifies its users symptoms. Here, connectivity is perhaps poison and cure. These support groups are stereotyped as women who collaborate in their sickness through a shared discourse.
Diagnosis similarly involves a collaborative exchange between clinician and patient. Beech invited writers Alice Hattrick and Naomi Pearce to correspond via email about the film, in order to mirror this dynamic, as well as the structure of these online networks. They were given a set timeframe of two weeks in which to write and edit the correspondence. This text continues their ongoing project Under the Influence, the first instalment of which was produced in association with Womens Art Library, London in November 2015.