Microbursts

Sometimes memory is a monastic cell, a small inside space-for-one in time’s one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Elizabeth Reeder & Amanda Thomson’s microbursts gives us the opposite—a porous open system, an eternally shifting terrain of voice and memory laced with crystalline pockets of clarity.

In between places there is something solid, a traveler, crossing over.

Initially a series of short experimental essays written by Reeder during time spent caring for first one then both parents towards and at the ends of their lives, microbursts performs textual territories of care, grief, and memory passed through the ludic visual and typographical machinations of artist Amanda Thomson who shared this place-time with Reeder. Buffeted between sites of illness and death that are always already knotted together with living, Reeder’s words are teased apart, tensed against, tested for elasticity and structure, and punctuated with images like objects that push and pull at the textual, enacting memory’s alternative narratives.

The very details noticed in the midst of travel or shock or bewilderment can hold us fast; lost becomes found, the strange settles into a familiar.

Between Glasgow and Chicago and Glasgow again, without a through-line of time, nor of place exactly, here is a work that reminds us of the ways we can live under, behind and inside the lives of others, knowing that the smallest moments will return like objects, vivid upon memories’ ever-sifting mounds: an over-locking, an interweaving, an impossibly balanced rock; a returning to the past in whatever new guise the present turns up in. Come as you are.

they mapped what they knew and beyond what had been seen and recorded, they sketched a composited terra incognita, a co-option, a conjecture.

Despite an occupation with topographies, microbursts dwells in the unmappable half-light interstices of a life suspended in the work of prolonging that of another. Because knowing a place is not the same as being able to map it: both knowing and unknowing are cast as infirm—ground shifting, an active un-mapping as one life is left behind, and a flat stands empty in the before.

I make up stories that will be memories.

Memory, released from the archival responsibilities it is so unsuited for, itself becomes a multitude of objects—archived in ways that speak, again, as much to mapping, fixing, narrativising as they do un-mapping, un-making, the backwards-sideways logic of remembering. Shifting in and out of the substantial, they jostle with tangible objects from other days: Thomson’s flat copper compass that forever points to ‘YOU ARE HERE’, a father’s wallet worn with use, landscapes left behind, a line of text that haunts from elsewhere, photos from trips through prairies to power stations and cemeteries, a house that’s still a home—relics of different pasts that still serve the present. The detritus of living congregates in the corners, objects trace the spaces that accompany a life, memories fixed for a moment before settling back into the flurry.

Others describe the landscape in relation to their bodies, where something stands in relation to where they’re facing: I see from here, they say, and I look out; I tell you what I see.

Thomson’s typographic machinations pluck at and play with the bodies of Reeder’s text, offering an inside logic to trauma’s tonalities outside. Voice resides in three places—the father at the top left of the page, the mother bottom right. Reeder herself dwells in both of these loci—because the telling is hers—as well as the centre, where Thomson’s layouts and typographies are also at work, at times centring Reeder’s thought objects on the plinth of a white page, or joining forces in the urgent, dense roar of a ‘microburst’. At other times, visual play is sparse transposal of Reeder’s essaying, such as removing the ins and outs of a difficult day and holding on to its pauses in ‘yell’, or a quiet moment of waking worry in ‘14 february, morning’, with all the ifs that crowd around the possibility of an end.

Family is place. This is why were here. I sit by his bed, hoping hell recover, and in me I hold another country.

This is reading and writing as remembering—a dark punctuated by sharp bolts of tenderness and joy, the streaks of allegiance and annoyance that run thick through family (fault)lines. It is a reaching out past the heavy walls of illness, of care, past the confines of a page, through expectations of memoir and artist book, and into the world of the living.

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Loll Jung is a human animal interested in hybrid essaying, poetry, and fiction, where they grapple with intersections of mythology, ecology, and memory. Their current research explores human death and dying practices alongside living geologies.

microbursts, a collection of hybrid essays by Elizabeth Reeder & Amanda Thomson, was published in spring 2021 by prototype publishing, £12.