Consider the knot

Here I am on a writing retreat looking again at work on my essay "Untangling in front of you" (working title)

A tangled line—it might be a rope, a necklace, a sewing thread, a pile of string—comes not alone nor merely as a practical matter. Faced with a complicated tangle it can feel like something best approached without witnesses. Untangling it might involve a loss of nerve, a failure of composure, heavy breathing, a sense of rising panic. An audience of any size provides a measure of pressure heightening the possibility for irrational panic. It’s only a line curled over and looped amongst its own length. With quiet composure, a way out can be found. If panic sets in, tension lends itself toward pulling the line taut making follow through more difficult. Any practical task capable of setting one on a course toward panic carries the risk of death or serious injury or the weight of metaphor. Usually untangling a rope or string or thread or necklace is not a life or death matter and yet I can easily summon the recollection of hearing strangled cries of agony from a person struggling to untangle a line. I can envision a person trapped in a net whose struggle to get out merely tightens the knots binding them. I have seen a bird thrashing itself further into a tangle when patiently stepping away at first sensing possible entanglement might have seen the way out with little effort. It is not only a problem of human meaning making but the metaphorical possibilities of the tangle which can create a tangle in the brain that is as big an obstacle to freedom as the rope itself.

Writing is somewhat similar to untangling a length of rope. Thoughts exist in simultaneity and a curvature of relations within my thought-scape. In order to write them down and give a rational order to them I attempt to put them in a grammatical line. I struggle to do this if I do not maintain some level of calm especially through an emotional response. In that way writing might demand calm from a troubled state of mind, it might soothe a tangle of emotions, it might set into reason a confusion of if/then loops.

Consider the knot: the one that keeps the mast steady in heavy wind; the one that closes the umbilical cord; that joins two ropes together at a right angle, that, multiplied by many, comprises a bridge; that keeps a kite from flying away; that holds a ship at the dock; maintains a position at sea; measures the speed; frees a parachute from its package.

And consider its memory: A knot is a set of relations and a rope holds the memory of it equal to its investment. The tie that binds.

Tags: untangling

Posted on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 by Karen Christopher

Untangling in front of you

After performing our new duet miles & miles at Chisenhale Dance Space in July I became transfixed by a couple of questions: How did we untangle in front of you? How could we trust it was something to watch? Isn't untangling a knot something about which you say "I can't do this if I'm watched"? The untangling of a rope or string or other line or set of lines can be one of the most panic inducing dilemmas there is. Why would I want to play it out in real uncontrollable time in front of an audience.

The untangling is an unquestionable by-product of the forces and concerns we are laying out in miles & miles. Something about the attempt at linearity or organisation of a sense of life and its uncontrolability is at the heart of our performance work.

To reorganise a stream of consciousness unleashed into the world merely by being alive is almost an impossible task.

Undoing a knot is the kind of thing that might produce the declaration (even to friendly onlookers): I can't do this in front of you.

The pressure of another's gaze is unsettling to the mind of the untangler. Furthermore, what might be streamlined for one person to sort out becomes precarious with two as each sees the knot or tangle from a different point of view. The binocular aspect is just enough to tip the apple cart. But as we do work in tandem, we must exercise the capacity to refrain from turning on each other like over-heated rats in a crowded cage. And this is how we kept our nerve, by knowing there is a future to survive together.

. . . this will eventually be completed as an essay including (but not limited to) the following sections: the whole body through the loop, the performance of confidence & optimism, the technical terms we feigned to make it seem we were in control, and the vicarious thrill for the audience of our ultimate victory.

Photo: Manu Valcarce Photography 2016

Tags: untangling, miles & miles, duet, Chisenhale Dance Space

Posted on Sunday, 7 August 2016 by Karen Christopher

Loops in the brain that tangle and untangle

He asked me whether I ever looked back in my notebook. He was watching me write in it and he wanted to make the point that what I was doing was pointless and that perhaps I should not waste my time that way. He was sure that my answer to his question: do you ever go back and read what you write would be "no". I said yes and he was incredulous saying: "I never did when I wrote a notebook and so I stopped."

I thought of him just now as I was walking, because I'd mused about an idea that had come to me for something to do in a workshop. A new idea, I thought. I had been so glad about this new idea. I went through my notebook to add it to what I'd written a couple of months before for that same workshop but there it was, a note (in my own handwriting) of that same idea. I was having it again for the first time.

When I got home from the walk I cleared a block in the sink and answered some emails and sent a few tweets for the upcoming performance in Aberystwyth at which point I remembered the plan to write something down. I flexed my brain looking for it. I relaxed it. I poked a stick into the inner layers. I couldn't remember what it had been. Nothing at all came to mind. So empty.

When, as I continued to clear a few things in advance of my trip, I turned the radio on and heard a woman who takes care of elephants talking about writing a diary to keep track of developments, the memory of this internal conversation about the notebook and the memory and the workshop exercise came flowing back to me. Now I've written it down. It's all there now. Every curling loop of it.


Tags: walking, untangling, questions, workshop

Posted on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 by Karen Christopher