‘I don’t know a worm from a turd, but I know what the weather feels like. There is not enough sensitivity in the world. There are too many things to explain.’
The Cow, Ariana Reines
‘It’s just questions full of other people, like, what does he think I should get? Or, what would she prefer me to do? That’s when the panic starts and I forget what the question was in the first place, and then how am I supposed to decide?’
Naked and Practical, ‘Wanting and Not Wanting’, Siân Robinson Davies
Naked and Practical drops through my door as I emerge from an anxious time, as in, a time that I begin taking medication for anxiety. This experience turns out to be pretty common among people I know. When we talk about anxiety, try to come to some kind of understanding of the concept—often through the combined lenses of pharmaceuticals and a therapeutic process—the idea of distance or detachment seems significant. The distance fostered by medicated anxiety can be experienced as a kind of relief, a relief at finally feeling outside of one’s experience, of being able to watch and observe, rather than perpetually tangled within it.
Naked and Practical is an exercise in watching: in watching the self, watching others, watching the self’s projections onto others. Through close observation of a range of encounters Siân Robinson Davies articulates complexities inherent to the meeting of self and other. This is mind-watching, in the best sense. Bright red and pocket-sized, the slender volume is satisfying to hold and to read, its compactness encouraging a physical proximity to the page that is echoed in the themes explored in the text. The attention of the designer, Emma Kalkhoven, is evident in many small details that enhance but do not overpower the clarity of the form.
A collection of discrete prose pieces, Naked and Practical is described by the author as short stories, scenes and fragments. Taken together these twenty chapters sketch out a schematic for coming to know desire in the face of the distance central to human relations. Fragments are written in spare, clean prose, and describe a range of social encounters with noticeable detachment. Intimacy is laid out in its often clunky and uncomfortable forms, and the body emerges continually as a barrier to understanding, frustrating in its appearance of accessibility which it only rarely confers.
‘A common factor of all the positions that Abigail was into was one of distance, often the only point of contact being their genitals. Tariq felt lonely when the majority of his body was left unattended to, whereas for Abigail, the opposite was true; she experienced a claustrophobia when he tried to wrap himself around her.’
This fragment closes as Abigail and Tariq are ‘panting, shoving, twisting’ in a ‘pile on the living room carpet, exhausted and satisfied’. In this instance, distance is momentarily overcome, although we are not convinced it will remain so.
‘Up Against The Outside’ describes another bodily encounter, the experience of being near the leg of another. The narrator describes how ‘being up against his outer thigh is like being outside his house, rather than inside it, or like being outside his mind, rather than inside it…getting into it seems to be just as difficult as getting into his home or his thoughts. It teases me with its visibility.’ The body is yet another distance to be navigated; physicality is no guarantee of closeness.
These texts lead us to become her and then him, I and you. Moments described are not of intimacy, rather they speak to the struggle of description as part of the process of coming to an understanding of distance. We watch as the watcher struggles. This is intimacy without closeness, without even the comfort of believing that we are with the author. She is herself attempting to get out of her own mind.
Much of the power of this work lies in the author’s ability to wield observation as both subject and object of the text. While attempts to describe an encounter in words might be so familiar as to be unremarkable, engaging with observation as a practice implies a desire to speak directly to the problem of representation as a form of communication. It is an emphasis on description fully aware of the difficulties inherent to this process.
Throughout the fragments comprising this work the reader is suspended between seeing from the speaker’s perspective and understanding that in part these observations are perhaps also projections, an imagining of actions and encounters experienced by a wide cast of characters. In this tension, the work speaks directly to the struggle of proximity. The intensity of attention, expressed through language, encourages readers to inhabit and articulate the complexity of distance and nearness in our everyday encounters, both with ourselves and others.
I go to the launch of Naked and Practical at ten letters, a top floor flat in the south side of Glasgow. There are people there I know, some I know well, and others I’ve never met. We talk. What do we talk about? I observe myself watching as encounters unfold. I’m aware of the lessons of Naked and Practical as I stand in this room, am glad the author is here, and appreciate that we are in this room to acknowledge the questions that she poses. Social life can be overwhelming. Becoming aware that it is possible to draw back and observe is remarkable. It’s observation with intimacy, life at a range of scales. Increasingly I want to be near and far at the same time. Naked and Practical seems to want this too. Yes of course.
Siân Robinson Davies is a writer, performer and teacher living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Naked and Practical is available to buy at www.sianrd.com.
tenletters is a space in Glasgow, focused on the representation, expression and circulation of language in its many forms.
Amy Todman is an artist, writer and archivist based in Edinburgh.