Kass and I met on the apps. I invited her to come do Kimberly’s workshop with me in person. Co-listening on the couch was an intimate thing to do with a stranger. I took a lot of notes on what Kass said during the discussion, but the most resonant thing I wrote down was: I hear myself through my bones.
We don’t hear our own voices with our ears, she pointed out. We hear ourselves through resonances inside the body, which create a different quality of sound. There is vulnerability in not exactly knowing what other people will be able to perceive of us. There is a queer nervousness around revelation, a fear of visibility/audibility that’s not on our terms and of being clocked when it’s not safe. Kass explained how she uses recording technology to mimic the conditions of hearing her body from the outside, so that she can prepare to be heard by others.
Like Kass, I sometimes record my voice and the sounds of my body. But for me it’s less about safety, and more about desire. As someone socialized as a woman, my desirability can feel like a condition of being heard, even by myself. As a kid, I loved to make recordings on my tape deck but I couldn’t bear to hear the sound of my voice. Since I’ve been on testosterone, I can listen to myself for the first time. I make voice memos on my phone and use them as a mirror, through which I learn to want (to hear) myself.
Kimberly posed this question: Is virtual space a space? They said, I hope so, because we’re here, listening. It made me think about how we define space mostly by listening, yet receptivity is often an action we perceive as a lack (or at least, as a kind of inborn, feminine talent, being a “good listener,” rather than what it actually is: an intentional and dynamic practice).
I’ve wanted to make a poem called OFFMUTE where my friends meet on Zoom and turn off our mute buttons at the same time.
Listening to each other’s backgrounds in OFFMUTE could be like putting our ears on each other’s stomachs to hear them speak.
Turning OFF mute and turning it ON according to a program or a rhythmic system honors our listening as a concrete and embodied practice.
The following poem is co-written with a machine introduced to me by my friend/interlocutor/collaborator Elle. The machine combined my workshop notes with my field recording notes. The four recordings I wrote during and after were:
- ICE-MAKER STUCK ON THE CRUSH SETTING
- LACROIX CAN OPENING
- ELLE MICRODOSING
- FAG4FAG LOVE SONG GUS SENT ME AFTER ASKING CONSENT
II. NRRTV SYSTMS SMTMS
say you want me within virtual space
wright systm with ys closed
where you find the cool visions
inside a repellant noise for insects
myself is a song I could hear if desired
imagine making it, that noise, but for myself
sound is ugh what yokes
the mule team to memory
is that what you want
a systm of words
a wagon with ears
visions is a genre not one y alone
visions is what you don’t see with ys
what’s behind the retinal terror
the drummed rupture of ys
I hone in on a smoothness of the bod y y ys in you
the how to be roulette
some coins and your own narrative
what’s the effect of time, by accident
writing a n o(w) that will not suit
never leaves but only changes
void’s still playing
incredibly soft void
me to harden
to a mass whenever
I’m thinging about vibrant
pay you to be alive
in language ice
maker on the crush-setting
as long as it takes to fill up your glass
the walls I’d thnk are also
the effect of glass receiving
what if taking
what if taking were giving
POP, YEAH, POURING
STACK OF TRANSLUCENT
MONEY AFTER ASKING IT
CRANKED UP VOLUME
got big UP
told my exes exes y y should listen
horse in the systm
I went in
and the next track, I like as well
liking good like smoke
you are already told
systm I wanted to harden
my hungr writing
sex as suddenly writing
little bit hungry but less, now, hungry
like, its hungry
hungry weed in hungry space, making an actual house out of virtual wood
hex is the systm you have to live under
writing to creating to sitting without
weaving woven thru/within
me, fingers. if I heard this was made for
the screen i’d refuse it
work away from
the interior of the scream
WE ARE NOW ACCEPTING
CONSENT AS COIN
what if I didn’t tell me
III. SOMETIMES WHY
When doing this poem, I initially mistyped “systems” as “systms” because I was writing with my eyes closed. I chose to stick to that spelling. I’ve been really inspired by the poet Rodolfo Avelar, whose consonants give the wrds a tight intensity that I find electric. Although I’m mimicking them with this soundmove—that clenched-jaw-effect of vowellessness—what I’m mimicking is also a meaning-move. I meant the title, NRRTV SYSTMS SMTMS, to read Narrative Systems Sometimes. Without vowels, it feels like it could also be Nervous Systems Symptoms. Whenever there is a vowel missing, it’s a sign that more than one could go in its place.
There is one sometimes-vowel, and that’s “y,” the spiciest letter in this poem. The y is sometimes eye, sometimes yes, sometimes why. In a binary system of vowels and consonants, y is the only fluid letter.
HEARING THROUGH THE BONES
I'd met Mack through an app, looking for community, kinship, and relationships that I struggled to find in my own life.
A sound cannot be stopped once loosed. It is intangible and swift. But it is so painfully real all the same. We cannot stop them, and we cannot control how others will perceive those sounds we make without even trying. And just like those terrors of adolescence and childhood, it is those reactions I fear. Only now, the fear is much deeper. And there is a desperation attached to this fear now. A desperate need to be seen a truly unique way. To be seen as a woman. And of all things, my voice betrays me now more than any single trait of mine. And yet I want so badly to love it. To love myself.
I want to love my voice, and I think I do love my voice. I've spent so many nights alone, when it was only this, my natural born voice that carried me through those nights in solitary conversation. But at the same time, I want so badly for those around me to hear HER. The person I've tried so hard to become. And I know that no matter what, even if those I love and cherish hear her in my voice whenever I speak, there will always be those that may never hear her when I speak. I will struggle with this for I know not how long. But for once, I no longer feel alone.
I am, I persist, and so I fear
You are, you are near, it is us I fear
The agonizing distance between us
As you draw near, I wonder what you hear
I agonize, I contemplate, I run but cannot move
The sound of my breath
The beat of my heart
Again I hide myself in a bag of plastic and consume
They crunch between the mountains I call molars
Again I fear
As I hide from myself in a needless snack
I must be making myself known to you
It is this I fear