A Dutch town, a mental hospital, two authors, three painters, confinement, and The Triumph of Death.

I was reading an article about a week ago regarding how an art historian settled down an argument over the precise location of a specific scene in a little Dutch town by using tax and residential property records. It was short but an interesting read, as I love art history and am into investigation. At the time I wasn’t paying attention to this painter, however I do like the work very much, a peaceful still scene in a Dutch little town Delft. The painting is called “The Little Street”.

Just a few days later I was reading “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen, in which she mentioned a painting displayed in the Frick Collection by a Dutch Golden Age Painter, Johannes Vermeer, who happens to be the person who painted “The Little Street” (Vermeer is also the painter who created other more famous works such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “The Milkmaid”). The painting, which is titled “Girl Interrupted at Her Music”, is essentially what Susanna’s half-autobiographic work named after; she dedicates the name of the book to that moment (or moments) when she was in Frick Collection looking at that girl, when the girl seemed to talk to her.

And then I saw a friend sharing an amazing painting on Instagram by, again, such a coincident, a Dutch painter, from the same period of time, whose name is Marseus van Schrieck. I mentioned that I just recently discovered Johannes Vermeer (out of surprise) and she then introduced me to a documentary film called “Tim’s Vermeer”, which is the journey of an entrepreneur Tim Jenison trying to recreate the painting device Vermeer used centuries ago (this is based on a theory that Vermeer used Camera Obscura to create his realistic photo-like works).

Finally, yesterday, I picked up my “The Colossus” by Sylvia Plath, a book I bought a while ago but only started reading because of the confinement. In the second poem “Two Views of a Cadaver Room”, Sylvia used Pieter Brueghel’s panorama painting “The Triumph of Death” as a motif (or a scene) to express her complex understanding/feeling of death and love. While the painting is clearly related to the Black Death, I can’t stop to think that both Susanna Kaysen and Sylvia Plath were confined to the same hospital, McLean Hospital, but 15 years apart, and that I, and actually we, are all in confinement in this pandemic that kills thousands and counting, a real Triumph of Death.

* Sheep in Fog *

Whiteness swallows,
Vines, wires, distant hills
Within that stillness.

That sheep regarded me
Composed with shadows
Shuffle through the aisles.

Morning leaves its breath
On the tip of the autumn leaves
Before the brightness became apparent.

My face embraced by
The damp delight
In the break of a May day.

They prune
While the sheep in fog
Brought me to this fairy land.

* Youth *

The empty space you left permeates,
Infectious, hollows mind.
Frontier expanding,
A world vast and warmthless
Future starts.

I’m still breathing with corrupted lungs,
Chocked by the ashes that fall 
As the winter comes.
The lover that went wrong,
My name forgotten, blurry and gone.

I was the reckless, the only youth (between us)
Falling for that youthful dream that drowned in your leaden truth.

I knew you were bleeding (before all this),
But you are the lucky one.
Because the dying is the one that you think went wrong.

I am the one naïve youth that you will soon forget,
Left in the far field
With the blade still deep
Bury under the skin.
Missing the hand that
Once hold the grip.

I’m still missing.

After Daughter, Elena Tonra “Youth”

Read “Red Doc>” by Anne Carson

(This is only a short and incomplete note on my thought on Anne Carson’s work, which should not be taken seriously.)

Review 3/29/2020
It would probably better, to read “Autobiography of red” before reading this. Maybe some extra Greek mythology would help too.
But I enjoy the read, as it is a journey of word play, not just playing with words, but the structure of sentence, paragraph, visual effect, and sound, eventually, this is a prose poem, like the greek saga, should be listened.

Read “The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I believe Charlotte Perkins Gilman said herself that she never thought about being a novelist, yet she wrote amazing stories. 
In a sense she’s maybe referring to her ability to construct a complete, thorough structure for her novel, as her short fictions are the ones that continue to catch our eyes more than a century later. It’s not that her novel isn’t amazing, it is just that her short stories are much more distilled, with simple but powerful idea that each contains a hard-to-avoid narrative.
Her essays, which are equally important and deserve to be collected and preserved, however, are less distinguish as her fictional work from my point of view; theory evolves with new research and social condition and can be outdated. With so much development and fundamental shift, feminism today is far broader and more complex than the one her generation struggle to develop. Although many are still not achieved, we can see that feminist today has a much more diverse goals and her essays are more of a philosophical foundation than practical tools any more.
I enjoy the short fictions significantly more than her other works.

Read “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen

This isn’t restrictedly speaking a novel, but it provide something much more than just an account.
I was occupied by the story after watching the film when I was probably the same age as Susanna Kaysen when she was confined to the McLean Hospital. I didn’t know either, at the time, that Sylvia Plath was one of the prominent figures who stay shortly in the same institute. After so many years I realized that I am always fascinated by this kind of stories because I was one; a revelation made after eventually reading the book.
But each one of us, Susanna, Sylvia, Lisa, Daisy, Georgiana, is dealing with a unique situation that only belong to that intimate self, as such, though there are sentences and observations that strike me hardly, the story is actually foreign to me, and it makes the book witty, obscure at some passage, funny, sadden, and intriguing at the same time. 
This is not the reality that Sylvia tried to tell us by poetry, not the dark drama something like Joker would demonstrate, not the incredibly deep reflection by Virginia, but a POV from someone who was, by her own words, interrupted.

* Morning Mist *

The morning mist is famous to the musing gaze of the wondering soul,
Whiteness hooves across the fields,
Single minded, 
Taking away the breath
Of the leaving train.

We disappointed her,
Letting her through to that stillness.
Her skin bright as a lampshade.
She is famous
To us,
While loneliness is famous to
A poem.

After Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous”
And Sylvia Plath “Sheep in Fog” and “Lady Lazarus”

Bodily Emotion

I may not have that a strong intuition to how my body express my emotions since dance is still a relatively new phenomenon to me; this body has been painting for more than thirty years, but moves according to score for only about a year. Express not in the sense of facial expression, but of the complete scheme of movements of my entire body. I’ve originally supposed that movements evoke emotion, or, at least allow certain emotions to emerge, if it, the subject matter even if it is not identifiable, do exist, but I’ve since adjusted my concept, recognizing that it may not always be the movement that “triggers” the emotion, but the emotion chooses the movement, or, at least, certain movements allow certain emotions to be released. They are so fleeting and so not constrained by logos that it is hard to differentiate the cause apart from the result, they arise spontaneously without reasoning thus are difficult to define.


Speed is in my experience not the most provocative quality regarding expressing emotions, it can randomly link to joy and ecstasy, which would be considered positive emotions, or madness and anger, which conventionally would be negative emotions. And a sudden abruption of movement can in a way demonstrate confusion or doubt; at least for me.  But I don’t see it directly suggests specific emotions, it seems that it actually requires other subtle characters, maybe even context, to determine what exact emotion is realizing. That being said, it can hardly be sad when we are moving fast, although we have this sort of collective memories of a specific image that people running away while crying, it doesn’t seem to be the way I experience sadness or grievance. It must be slow; the hearse slowly passes the town, that’s our perception, so when I grieve, I move slowly, as if I need that much time to process the pain. Or maybe in a sense, it’s the pain that slows us down, that we are not capable of moving fast. But is it really that we are dragged by the pain, or rumination, or we are simply taking our time to collect ourselves, when we are processing anything overwhelming, or that this perception is so heavily engraved in our body language that we conform to the reign of steadiness? I do not know.

Giving up control

I recognise the fact that I’m exploring more about grieve and anything regarding atrocity, simply because we see joyfulness and festive emotions all over the place; we know it very well; we experience it without hesitation. They are visible, we don’t hide these emotions that often.

Also, this is maybe not very much about anger, as it is the most instinctive emotion, maybe the most ancient one, that it reacts so fast and is so demonstrative that we don’t need to look at it directly to recognise it. It is there when you hear that pounding, the erupted ones, it is madness. 

But pain can be invisible, maybe fear too. It is not the invisibility that makes them so different, it’s the intention to cover those emotions makes it so crucial, as our body desires an outlet for those emotions. In a sense, to let go of something.

And I am still not certain what to let go of? Is it to let go of the emotion itself, to let go of the obsession, to let go of the desire to do something, to let go of the pain, but how to let the pain go?

I don’t really think we can let go of pain, it’s not like inventory that we can control, being mindful only teaches me that we have no control over our emotion, certainly, not over our pain, physical or psychological. But I somehow have this tendency to, through certain type of movement, release something non-verbal through the act of giving up. There was a period of time I intentionally let my body fall as a distinctive part of my score. Giving it a chance to not care, probably; to not act proactively, but free it from the control of consciousness, to loosen my thighs and knees, to cease the support from the lower body, or to stop the hamstring from being stiff, to allow the spine to bend to ground. A physical way to demonstrate my intention of giving up. 

But giving up is not, in anyway, an emotion, not even desperation an emotion, it is a quasi-intentional act to allow the release of something, something I yet to define, or a complex of multiple objects. 

And there are other forms of giving up, swings and roll. 

There are subtle differences between the swings, and there is this one that I move solely my core, and allows my limbs to swing without directing the arms, the legs; I forget about the tips of the body, I conduct the movement by directing my core. And also, the rolling, which actually consists of two separate but seamlessly connected movements, a pull of body to the point of losing balance, and the release of body by its own weight. The second part is obviously less intentional, although we do intend to roll by initiating the first part of the movement.

But this, the act of giving up, is significantly more cognitive than instinctive. The act is a complex of understanding how reality works and a purposeful reaction to it, a choice to not act in a way.

These two movements, I found, are less intuitive in terms of giving up control, as they require intentional manoeuvres rather than a single, direct action, like lying down, and thus intrigued me to hypothesize that some movements are the representation of the emotions and some intentional movements allows the release of certain emotions. However, I don’t seem to have enough reason to conclude whether this is a universal phenomenon that is consistent on everyone, so it’s only an observation on my own experience. 


I use the term resistance to roughly describe all the movements that require using force to sustain certain positions especially against an existing force, such as weight. As a result in its nature a lot of the movements I’m going to describe are partly static, like plank, overarching the body, but in other cases it can be something more active, such as grabbing and holding any body part, pushing into the wall, etc.

I didn’t pay enough attention to how resistance interact with emotions, but simply recognised that I tend to perform the kind of movements frequently when I’m stuck in my emotional turmoil, the resistance represents naturally my struggle, or, to a certain stand, my reaction to pain, as the very word “struggle” implies an action against an unfavourable condition, and that action can be easily interpreted as resistance. 

So, I am not certain if resistance represent an emotion, but it certainly doesn’t induce emotions. I see it as a reaction to many of the negative emotions that we want to get rid of, the disappointment, grief, sadness, desperate, etc., but then, are those clearly emotions? Or they are more cognitive? 

What is more interesting, is that if we resist emotions through resisting physical force (even simply as metaphor), does that suggest subconsciously we equate the existing force to emotions (or to the source of emotion like pain)? And that emotions are a force to be put upon us unwillingly? And if the metaphor does function as what I just suggested, then should we reconsidering resistance, but to relieve the force instead?

Weight and gravity

It’s interesting to think about what weight and gravity means to us, in the language of body movement, or, dance? In a sense, it is something we always fight, as we cheerfully celebrate dancer’s movement as “light” and “free”, and that elegance always suggests weightless and effortless, at least traditionally. But at the same time, some may use the specific gesture that emphasis the effect of gravity to signal strength and power, which is somehow a confirmation of the overwhelming presence of weight and gravity – the force that exist to challenge us. After all, why do we need strength and power, isn’t it only to counter the force that oppress us? 

I am certain there are many more dimensions and variables, such as muscle contraction, intentional sounds (voice), distance between objects and subjects, etc., that expose unintentionally our emotion, however subtle or intense. But what I don’t know is whether we actually translate all these into our dance language, or if they have a universal scheme, that allows a clear reference to our inner self? Or maybe I just disclosed something so intimate that only reflects my personal history and has nothing to do with the universality of the somatic response?

Quote #On Writing

“What’s writing really about? It’s about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life.” – Ted Hughes

“A writer is not interested in explaining reality; he’s interested in capturing it.” – Brendan Kennelly