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Ouslander & Abbott – Baltimore Ekphrasis Project

Erin Ouslander and Elinor Abbott traded art and words. Erin shared this image, “The Donautilus,” with Elinor:


In response, Elinor wrote this short story:

Snooze Button

When I sleep I turn into an animal. Semi conscious, I can feel my animal body breathe. My ribs and belly move like a dog’s, and I am happy, curled on my side. There isn’t anything to suffer through, only the big black slide in my brain, just another five minutes, going under, my existence cradled by the heat of whatever I have wrapped around me, soft lit through a blue blanket filter. The world disappears entirely, so quickly that I don’t even notice. It is replaced by a phantasmagoria I much prefer.

Sometimes, I will become vaguely aware my hands are sweating. I’m fine with it. I love losing things to sleep. I love the way my body turns off my mind so it can repair itself. What a relief! There’s so much work to do and I’m tired of doing it! I sit down in a chair with a book and I can feel sleep creep up my arms and shoulders, working its way gently, but insistently, towards my brain. I am like a corpse consumed by ivy. When I put the book down and give in, rocking sideways, my head tipped over my shoulder like a dropped egg, I feel the pleasure of submission that all sleepers know.

When I sleep, I don’t have anything to battle. No thoughts. No body to wear. Nothing to agonize. When my body is too tired or my brain is too sad, I simply have to fall asleep! It has become the cornerstone of my self preservation. Sleep pushes me like a shovel against my mind, the thoughts a frothing codex, images unraveling, as though I were a great and important novel as opposed to a flawed human in a sea of flawed humans, hardly a blip on the horrible radar of time.

I dreamt twice this week of a desert. I dreamt I bought my mom two couches and $4,000 in gifts from a roadside gallery. I dreamt I wore a black ribbon around my neck. I dreamt my old cat came back to me, so giant and fat, he was now the Henry VIII of cats. I dreamt I was on a long winding bridge over a river in Florida. I dreamt my sister and I were stranded. I dreamt I had five kittens. I dreamt I fucked Kevin Costner. I dreamt of things I can’t or won’t eat: shellfish and donuts, the sugary sea. I dreamt I ate a cocktail olive from my father’s martini and woke up with the taste of brine bruising my mouth.

Sometimes when I wake, I am warm, happy and wrinkled as a baby. I am unfamiliar to myself in those moments. I don’t want to go much further away from the bed, from sleep, than I have to. I want to linger in my confusion. Other times I wake with my hands roaming my body in dysmorphic despair. Or I wake with one hand down my pants, already back on the samsaric wheel, searching for pleasure. I wake up with the earphones strangling me. I wake up crying. Help. I want to be anyone else when I swing my legs out. Anyone. I wonder how it would feel to wake up as a man, to enter into a reality that doesn’t require you to ask permission or beg forgiveness or consider other opinions or look a particular way or be particularly nice, rolling out your heart like a red carpet.

I remember an Ally McBeal I saw once, where she was arguing on behalf of a woman who wanted to stay comatose because her sleeping reality was so much better than her real life. And what was real life, actually, Ally McBeal wanted to know. I remember my father saying that we shouldn’t be watching Ally McBeal, my sister and I, because this was clearly a show about a severely mentally ill woman. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. Nothing, not even Ally, could prepare me for years of longing for nonsensical darkness, escape and refuge, calling me like a siren from an island in my soul. Where I would nap in secret, on the bus, quickly before dinner, in a chair in a waiting room, on a doctor’s table. Please, just let me sleep. Let me hand the keys to the busy workers of my body, trying so hard to repair the irreparable. Let me blow the dust off the lexicon of my mind and sit down for a spell with the puzzle of myself. It’s so much more appealing than the bright waking world, where survival, brutal and exacting, not magic, mysterious and warm, is the order of the day.

* * * * *

Elinor shared this story with Erin:

Dear Ethan Hawke

I saw a picture of Ethan Hawke the other day and he looked so old I thought he was Kurt Russell. It made me think of my youth like the juice left in the bottom of the glass, mostly swill and almost gone. Don’t get old, Ethan Hawke, meet me on a train to Vienna. I don’t think you meant to fuck with me, convince me that there is only one person for me in all the world, but oh well. The mistake was made and the damage done. So, take me to NYC and paint me nude in the sunlight on your dirty bed. I know you’ve already met your one true love, an eight year old in a green dress, but I’m just in it for the portrait. I can’t imagine my life if I loved the first boy I ever had a sexual feelings for. I don’t even know who it is. Some man somewhere, looking into his cell phone, if I had to take a guess.

Ethan Hawke, you have a face like a hopeful dog. You have a touch of cruelty perched upon your tilting mouth. Your eyes are a guileless blue. Your hair was the hair every boy I went to high school with strove for; that perfect greasy flop of dishwater blonde. Ethan Hawke, take me to space with you. I was born with something wrong with my heart also, only mine is more metaphorical than physical. My parents didn’t genetically engineer me either, and so my sister was the golden child, and I learned to live with love as a scarcity. We all became snapping dogs. Oh, Ethan. I will help you burn Jude Law’s little body in the incinerator and give you a strand of my hair so you can see I’m not lying.

Ethan Hawke, don’t get old. If you get old then I will have to as well. I’ll watch your feet as they disappear off the escalator of life and know I’m next in line to go. I always imagined death as an escalator; grandparents at the top, then parents, then you. As long as someone was ahead of you, you were temporarily ok. But the escalator only goes up, you get to the top eventually and you were born nailed to the step. When will you read Dylan Thomas to me on a fountain? You, the patron saint of sarcastic asshole slacker musicians with smug goatees, where is my male best friend who will make me so unhappy that I suddenly realize I am in love with him? I was promised things, in the 90s, in the middle of nowhere, as a teen, that I mean to see done.

“Ethan Hawke, you’re going to marry the wrong girl,” is the message I would send back in time to you. Don’t feel bad, I married the wrong man. Marriage is bad news over all. I had a friend who met you at a book signing, you hit on her even though you were married to the most beautiful woman in the world at the time. Sometimes I try and explain to people how little beauty matters in the end, how it fixes nothing, can’t be depended on for shit, is basically garbage. If abs solved problems then Hollywood would probably be the happiest place on earth. Beauty doesn’t save your marriage. Maybe you could sign my petition that beauty is a lie. Here’s a pen. Maybe you could hit on me at a book signing and I would drive you to an empty place where the sky is big and God is close and take a hundred photographs of you and then, together, we could burn them one by one.

In response, Erin made this painting, entitled “Young Ethan Hawke Wants to Give You This Kitten”:


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