Sarah Tripp in collaboration with Isobel Lutz-Smith, ‘Dear Alice’, video, 8.17 mins, 2020

Dear Alice,

This address, this en-dear-ing of you by me, is a soft command to think of you as I sit down to write. A little like good posture.

Two strangers meet in an empty room to talk, this is what I wrote three years ago. The empty room is perhaps a condition of all conversation and no matter how often we talk we remain in certain ways strangers. I am trying to remember if we hugged before we parted. We must have done. Maybe not though, you looked so smart. A lot happens without speaking. It is now 4.35 a.m. And what of the words said after, as I continue our conversation alone later, and the words never spoken but sent onwards.

A long time ago, I planned to write a conversation between strangers, a conversation spanning three years. To show how their ways of finding out about each other shaped who they became. How they reinvented conversation, reinvented one another while unlearning and relearning to speak. Without any prior social bonds they discovered they were free to make each other up. A conversation stripped back to two strangers in a room.

And it never occurred to me at the time, how could it, that this is what the mother-infant dyad might be, two people in a room learning to talk to each other. Something was missing, we looked for the yellow marble for a long time, then found the blue one. I am learning how to speak to Vivian. This is not a question of words but of love. He is teaching me how to speak his values. His taxonomy of guitars and balloons opens out to encompass the world. A guitar is a chamber for amplification and balloons live or expire. This is a story about what I let go of and what I took hold of. How practice takes hold in time and space, and vanishes into other concerns. “Guitar!” means, I hope a guitar will turn up in this story.

I planned to put new kinds of conversation down on the page. To put listening down on the page. To use writing to wonder about the kinds of listening conversation depends on. Sometimes I think I am a good conversationalist but the truth is I find it hard to let go. I keep the conversation going as if the words keep the other person, what? Alive? He told me about a man who called him from an oil rig in the North Sea.

Dear Alice,

If I go back, right back to the beginning, I find some notes on conversation as a wish, the wishing, as it were, travelling between us. The conversation I am having with you is in my head, you are absolutely not here and yet you are absolutely real. You are digging in your garden and I sit down to watch. Hear you, because it is the fine and heavy falling of particles and clods I am listening to. You have done this many times, so you don’t need to listen, you just do it, but this heave and turn is a new vocabulary I want to join in with.

Dear Lizzie,

I am struck by soft squeaks of polystyrene. I feel met!

Dear Chloe,

I think preparations for writing are unnecessary. My preparations were nothing to do with writing, they were much more about overcoming the difficulty of seeing myself as someone who wrote.

Dear Aman,

Allow for all the hidden intentions and motivations, then jump.

Dear Lesley,

Did we rise early or did we rise in the middle of the night?

Write soon Alice

Write soon Lizzie

Write soon Chloe

Write soon Aman

Write soon Lesley

It’s starting to feel pretty busy in here.



The Self-Illuminating Pen was also published as a limited edition notebook by MAP Editions in November 2020 and made available free. Designed by the artist and with cover artwork by Ciara Phillips, it includes the 5 letters, 5 special writing exercises devised by Sarah Tripp and over 100 blank pages.


Sarah Tripp is an artist, writer and lecturer based in Glasgow. She lectures in Scotland and the United Kingdom and guest lectures at international universities. Her work has been published by Book Works (London), F.R. DAVID (Berlin), 2HB (Glasgow), Space Poetry (Denmark) and The Happy Hypocrite.

Isobel Lutz-Smith is a Scottish moving image artist based in Glasgow. In 2016 she graduated from the Master of Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art, as part of this programme she spent an exchange semester in Tokyo. Her work will feature in an upcoming issue of the Drouth.


Creative Scotland awarded Sarah Tripp Open Project Funding to support the production of the book and performance project Guitar!