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Baugher & Qrcky – February 2021

Qrcky and Janée J. Baugher traded art and words. Qrcky shared this image, titled “Self-Censorship,” with Janée:

In response, Janée wrote this piece of flash fiction:

Raping Will Stop When Men Stop Raping

She appeared to the painter after he had selected a canvas, positioned it vertically, and applied layers of white gesso. Call her ancestor, call her sister, call her muse. She whispered, paint my portrait as I am. A light emanated above them. He leaned in. He imagined her neither youthful nor old. We enter this world innocently, he thought. He understood that she was commanding the composition, the palette. He felt a surge of heat and stumbled backwards. He got to work. What was she wearing? He rendered a baby blue blouse airy, pleated, a high neck, long sleeves. The hair he couldn’t decide. Scarf, she answered; he mixed three muted yellows. Though he was poised to paint the intricate cartilage and soft pads of the ears, she had tucked them under the scarf. Not all screams are knowable, she replied. He painted the background thick with navy blue and black brushstrokes. While he considered the mouth, she added, believe me, we carry the weight. So, he painted each boney digit, rendered each small joint, and he took up both hands, interlaced the fingers, and positioned them over the mouth. No one knows our names, she thought. Lastly, the eyes—the depth of the orbits, the sclera (painted white, bloodshot, or jaundiced), the iris’s hue, and the size of the pupils. As he looked at her and considered the task, she shook her head. Was she saying no? The white of the canvas bore through him. Leave the eyes blank? A painting in which anyone’s eyes can be sketched? He stared at the space where the eyes would be—could not reach into her. What was she trying to tell him? Time’s up, she said

* * * * *

Janée shared this piece of flash non-fiction with Qrcky:

Held by Earth

I.

The summer I turned 8 years old, we moved into a neighborhood that abutted a steer corral, horse pastures, and miles of woods.  My father suggested we build a tree house, and in the end it was sturdy and suitable, but it was far too close for comfort – right in our backyard!  In the stand of trees 100 feet from our house, though, I’d pretend the space was my own homestead.  I’d sneak back there, sweep the clearing of pine needles and cones, arrange tree stumps to make a sitting area, and I’d inhabit that place.  Hemmed-in by the tree boles and canopies, I found a way to disappear, and in this way I could see myself clearly.  In that space alone, I fantasized about living a life, not like my parents had done, but with vivid projections of a solitary life.

Until we moved away the summer I turned 12, I had spent virtually every day horseback riding with girlfriends or alone.  I love the outdoors and am alive to all the living things.  I was the type of kid who’d scoop up tiny marsh frogs in my hands just so I could look into their eyes, and then I’d set them down exactly where I’d found them.  I was grateful to teachers who had suggested memoirs like Seven Alone on the Oregon Trail about the Segar family and Jesse Stuart’s The Thread that Runs So True, books that illustrated likeminded people, people who ventured out, took to nature, and in that they found salvation.  

It is the vastness of nature that invigorates me.  As a kid, I felt drawn to something bigger than myself, felt that my own freedom laid beyond my parents’ house, beyond what humans could offer me.  I sought the connection of space among the living I deemed most important – the trees, the animals, and creek beds.  It was then, in those woods, that I remember first realizing that I’m the type of person who desires to be always astonished.  I get more answers from nature than I do from humans.

The woods that I managed on horseback all those years ago exist as memories now:  the steer corral is a Safeway grocery store and strip mall, our horse pasture is a McDonald’s, where our barn once stood is a library, and the miles of woods is now a subdivision.  I can’t help but wonder if the plan of that neighborhood was at least partially based on the trails that we ourselves, as young horsewomen, had forged.

II.

If someone dies in a forest, is there grief?

There’s a beautiful forest in Japan where people go to die.  The entrance sign to the Aokigahara  forest at the base of Mt. Fuji reads:  “The life you received from your parents is a precious thing, please think once more of your parents, siblings, or children.  Rather than worry alone, please consult us.  Fuji Yoshida Police Station Suicide Prevention Association: 0555-22-0110.”

After Mount Fuji erupted over 1,000 years ago, a forest sprouted over the desiccated lava.  Today it’s an old-growth forest that scarcely gets sunlight on its floor and is considered to be haunted by the locals.  A long-abandoned van in the parking lot, personal affects strewed off the trail, as well as frayed ropes hanging from trees are tell-tale signs of who has come and gone, someone virtually each week of the year.  The dense forest is also referred to as “Sea of Trees” (Jukai) because it’s green all year, appearing like the sea.  It’s easy to get lost there, so hikers or indecisive suicides mark their way by unraveling rolls of trail ribbon.  

Nailed to a tree, one note read, “I came here because nothing good ever happened in my life,” but there appeared to be no accompanying body.  I myself used to imagine venturing into the woods and just dying there so that no one would have to manage my corpse.  It was an idealize notion, to simply walk in, vanish, and decompose where I had died.  Now I feel otherwise.  

III.

How can I be the type of person who’s both enlivened by the world and ready to quit it?  Out in nature, I am a mere animal whose instinct is survival, whose fears keep her on land.  Grounded on the forest floor among trees, gazing up at the branches and leaves, and hearing a trickle of water or the wings of an eagle endears me to life, especially when I remember that the forest is open to me always.  

Years ago I took my Chicago friend to Mount Rainier National Park.  We hiked to Comet Falls and ate lunch as the 100-foot waterfall dove decisively into the Mohawk River.  The mountainous mist cooled us as we discussed despondency and suicide with the resoluteness of two people who know.  Back on the trail, almost as soon as I began teasing him about his tread-worn shoes, my new hiking boots miscarried me right over the trail’s edge.  One moment I was upright and confidently following my friend, and the next moment I was dangling above a deep ravine.  My friend dropped to the ground, stretched his arm down to me and grabbed my hand.  Everything seemed to stop in that moment, and as we held each other’s hand and looked at each other hard, we just laughed.  Then he realized he alone couldn’t heave me back onto the trail, so he scurried to his feet and sprinted down the trail for help, as I clung to life there in that forest, shocked by my having instinctively grabbed tree roots to stop my plummet, shocked at my own betrayal at having mindlessly saved my own life, shocked, indeed, by life.

In response, Qrcky made this painting, titled “Aokigahara (青木ヶ原)”:

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