This is the first in series of blog posts that are part of the thinking process for my project ‘Slags on Stage’, which considers the relationship between class, art, sex, performance and desire through creative and critical writing. In these posts I explore ideas about sex, desire, class and art through writing experiments.
Each post is accompanied by an Apple Music playlist that I have curated to try and encapsulate the feelings I am working with as I write.
Click here for the Desperate Slag playlist.
‘I hope you find each other,’ my friend Laura says.
I hang up the phone and lie on the floor, in the centre of the rug. I close my eyes and see myself from above: splayed out on the rug, its blue and gold fleur-de-lis pattern spreading all around me, as if I’m leaking shapes. I am so full of him. The weight of longing pushes me down into the thick pile, the sense of him pooling under my skin; the heavy lukewarm blood of a just-dead corpse, sinking.
I imagine looking at an oil painting, which doesn’t exist: A woman hangs, horizontally and face up, from an iron bar, suspended by meat hooks that pierce through her thighs, abdomen, chest. Her neck and head are thrown back, dangling towards the ground, unsupported. Her bobbed blonde hair is rendered with short, fast brushstrokes, the movement of the brush visible on the canvas, streaking through the blonde colours so you can see how the artist has got there — the beiges and browns, the ochre. The background is an abstracted warehouse. The painting has a fluid, liquid quality, as if it might melt totally away, although, paradoxically, her body feels heavy, like a rotten thing: putrid, bloated and about to explode. Her face is contorted with the agony of longing. Her skin is alabaster, pink splotches on the fat parts. Blood bubbles thickly where the hooks pierce her skin.
I hope you find each other.
Tears run from the corners of my eyes, streaming over my ears, spilling onto the rug. The dog pads across the room, staring at me for a long minute. She’s looking down from a standing position, straight into my face; my reflection is ridiculous in the orb of her black eyes. She stares and stares and finally, realising I’m serious, she jumps onto the sofa and curls up, back turned, as if she is completely over my bullshit.
Fox Irving’s ‘Affect and Symbolic Violence’ is a video recording of the sea, filmed from a window in her flat that looks out over the beach. The waves rise and smash against the shore, rise and smash again, rolling in from the horizon. They do not heed the hexagonal red sign in the foreground telling them: STOP. The sky is low against the water.
The sense of rolling down the stairs, of being thrown (I’m using the passive voice to protect him. I don’t know why), is like a the sense of a wave. Rising and falling. You can’t escape it. The past will come back. On and on. Over and over.
In my notebook I have written this about Eirini Kartsaki’s book Repetition in Performance:
Desire and the impossibility of its fulfilment – longing and the unresolved nature of yearning. Moving through Barthes, Freud and Lacan, Kartsaki offers models of desire that articulate its perpetual nature. For example, Lacan’s drive, which ‘enables desire to keep going by precisely not reaching a final destination’ (Kartsaki 2017: 142), and accounts for the ways the nature of desire is played out in repetitious performances, as well as the ways the repetitions feel as lived experience through her body.
On Grayson Perry’s Art Club, the actress Jane Seymour paints a wave with turquoise watercolours, she uses kosher salt for the spray. She says that she’s drawn to the waves because they capture the feeling of moving from trauma into healing, and its inevitability; the pleasure in the rising and the pain as you smash back down into the sand, scraping yourself through the sediment of rock bottom, mustering your strength to rise again. Over and over. On and on. Perry’s wife, Philippa Perry, is a psychotherapist, she calls this rising and falling, the commitment to healing over and over again, ‘the work’.
I met Kartsaki at a conference in 2019. I loved her on sight, giving a paper about protrusions in artwork that also somehow managed to touch on love, longing and the ambivalence of her desire for a husband and children, its strength. In a break, I told her about my slags project. She had hurt her foot and was walking on crutches. “You should write about me,” she said. “I am a slag.” The sticker on her laptop confirmed it: SLAG, in all caps, covering the Apple logo.
I hope you find each other. I hope you find each other. I hope you find each other.
I am so full of him.
Two years before, at a rehearsal with the artist Kelly Green. A black box studio. All around us are scraps of paper with the words you might call a woman, if you wanted to humiliate her for having (or being perceived to have) too much sex, with the wrong people, or for money. Slag. Sket. Slut. Whore. Tart. Goer. Slapper. Dog. Prozzie. Jezebel. Ho. On and on. And the words for sex, seventy two in total, and not one of them gets close to describing something like intimacy. He has lied to me, using the method of deliberate concealment. He must have known I’d know it. I don’t say anything, but the truth feels like burning as we shuffle through the paper. Fuck, bang, screw, pork, bone, tap, press, nail. On and on. Kelly says, “Are you ok?” I am not ok. I’m crying. I sob and sob. The burn of his lie now completely subsuming. This is not very professional. I am supposed to be a grown up. I am here for research purposes.
“Sorry,” I tell her.
“No. It’s ok.” She picks up the scraps of paper, arranging them into a neat pile. “I get it. This stuff is intense.”
I hope you find each other.
I call a different friend. “It’s too much. It’s too much,” I’m sobbing again. “I’m full of him. I’m crying on the floor.” My friend invites me over for pizza. I lay on her teal striped rug, her cat paws at the threads while I pick salty strips of melted cheese off the pizza and fold them into my mouth. There’s a reality show playing in the background: Little Mix are selecting a new band to replicate their success, with any luck. Beautiful young women want this so bad, it’s all they’ve ever wanted, I swear they’ll work so hard, they promise. They promise. I listen to them sing, with my eyes closed and the salty cheese melting on my tongue. It’s quite soothing.