Spring 2023 | Teresa Carmody Reads from "Moving the Inconsequential Loop: Somatics, Feminisms" MQR Sound

Teresa Carmody reads an excerpt from their essay, "Moving the Inconsequential Loop: Somatics, Feminisms", for MQR's Spring 2023 special issue, "SomaFlights".

Here is a story, particular in its expression, common in its effect. In 2009, I was on a panel at an experimental writing conference hosted by the University of Buffalo, NY. The panel had been convened by a friend and writer I admire. It was titled: “Inconsequentiality: Why It’s Important.” I was presenting alongside this friend, my then-spouse, and a white male writer I did not know. 

At the time, I was working on a much earlier version of my novel, The Reconception of Marie, since published by Spuyten Duyvil. The novel draws on my working-class white evangelical childhood in the US Midwest to narrate a young woman’s coming into awareness of her intellectual, sexual, and spiritual self. The novel, like me, is feminist, anti-authoritarian, and queer.

At the conference, I presented a performative lecture about the novel in progress. I began with a power-point presentation that purposively proved nothing, before moving into a reading from the manuscript, written as a thirteen-year-old girl’s diary. I called my paper: “A Diary is a Yes Indeed.”

Aside from my friend on the panel, my other friends at the conference, including my then-spouse, were attending a concurring panel on queer failure. The organizers had accidently scheduled my then-spouse to speak at both events at the same time. So, for this panel, I would read her paper. And then read mine.

When it was time for my presentation, I stood at the center of the room. There was a music stand and something to hold my computer, so I could push the arrow button: next. The other panelists sat at a table to my right. When I reached the section of my paper that turned into the thirteen-year-old girl’s voice, the male panelist got up and walked toward me. I continued to read. He stood to my right and began unbuttoning his shirt. I was confused about his presence. About what he was doing. Something seemed off. I continued to read. He proceeded to take off his pants, his t-shirt, his socks. He stood just behind me, so I could see him from the corner of my eye. He stripped down to his boxers, while I continued to read from my novel written in the voice of an adolescent girl. 

No one in the audience said anything. 

I did not say anything. 

I did not look at him as I finished and returned to the table. 

I felt a cloud in my head, a deep fog. Familiar.

I remember sitting there afterward, numb. Not quite believing. Knowing something really fucked up had just happened, but not processing the fullness of it. My nervous system had, I now realize, gone into a combination of freeze and placation. I was disassociated. Determined to appear professional. To appear: not upset. 

Why am I telling you this story? 

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And what if I told you that I had to piece this story back together because I blocked it out.

I began remembering it, in fact, when this same white male writer visited my PhD program as a guest artist in 2015. I had dinner with him, part of a small group of graduate students and faculty. He said he knew who I was, that he had been on a panel with my then-spouse. In Buffalo, NY, he said. He did not mention me. He smirked. How strange, I said. All night, I did not remember. 

It was only later, after he complained to the department chair about a female professor who treated him “rudely,” like an “angry woman,” that something clicked. I remembered the panel, and a white male undressing while I spoke.

I texted my friend who had convened the panel in Buffalo to ask if this was the same white male.

Yes, she said. He was.

Writing is something we do and that is done to us. We write with our bodies and our bodies are written by the social and historical scripts that surround us. I have found that divination, and other forms of spiritual practice, are a way to get at that which we have not yet perceived. Maybe our brain is protecting us. Maybe we are not yet ready or able to receive that knowledge. Divination helps me to move into a space of openness, of listening.

To begin this writing, I pulled tarot cards and a memory emerged. So, I began researching. I uncovered a copy of my 2009 presentation and found an accounting and discussion of the panel, written by John Madera and published on Big Other. I realized I had mis-remembered several facts. I thought there were two white male panelists. I forgot how I performed my then-spouse’s paper. I knew someone had spoken of Gertrude Stein but did not realize it was me.

I do remember that my friend who convened the panel apologized for the male panelist’s behavior. He was being a dick, she said. He was making fun of the performativity at the conference. He was drunk, she said. It wasn’t personal. 

Why am I telling you this story?

About a male writer who undressed—that was his movement—while I read from a thirteen-year-old girl’s point of view?

Trauma is a story we get caught in. A story we forget. Living instead with the numbness. Choked throat. Fogged head, feeling ever the imposter. I was ashamed that this white male writer undressed while I was speaking. I felt boring. Inconsequential. Later, I was ashamed that I had not said anything. That I did not stop and confront him. 

How do we interrupt the traumatic repetition? 

What is feminist art? 

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Writer, priest, and spirit worker Lou Florez speaks about divination as a focused intention that creates a perch for spirit to land. Lou says art can do this too: create a perch, where something else, a visitation, grace, a radical re-alignment comes into focus.

What if, when I was reading, there had been another kind of movement, one of listening and acknowledgement instead of re-focusing everyone’s attention onto the white male? What if someone from the audience had interrupted his gestures? What if I had stopped reading and asked him to leave? What if my co-panelist had gently asked me to pause while she stood between the white male and audience? What does listening look like? How do we listen to our inner council? And what if thirteen-year-old girls and young queers around the world were acknowledged as the spazzy divine goddess artists and intellectuals they are? How might feminist art open new imaginative possibilities? 

How do we interrupt the trauma repetition? 

How do we claim the body’s capacity of movement and language? For change? 

This writing began again as a panel presentation, this time for a panel on contemporary feminisms at the AWP conference. That day, the room was configured in a strangely reminiscent manner: I stood at a lectern in the front of the room while four other panelists, present and attuned to the bodies in the room, sat a table to my right. When I began speaking, I noticed my voice shaking. I was surprised that I was surprised. At the end of the talk, I said, I say, this: I am going to play a 1-minute recording of me reading from that thirteen-year-old voice. And I invite you—this is my invitation, which you can accept or decline—to move with me to the sound of my, of her, of their, voice. Move in a way that signals intention and attention. Listen and begin to speak your words aloud, for you are the one reading; it is your voice in the room. Claim your body’s capacity for language. For a different story. You were you when you were thirteen. You know how she, how they, sound. 

At AWP, the audio recording didn’t work. So, I read the sentences aloud, live, while playing an instrumental version of Flashback on my phone. Music and thirteen-year-old girlvoice. A voice in a novel, which is also my memory. People in the room stood or sat and some moved, big or small, with me. What I felt: my body, witnessed alive in a song I loved when I was thirteen. 

Below is the 1-minute recording from that AWP presentation:

To read the rest of the Spring 2023 SomaFlights issue, you can purchase it here.

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