Notes on tape
The following piece was published in Studio V magazine, SEDRD, University of Guelph 2020:
I am finding myself, these days, with the need to date-stamp my writing, because the current situation, which on a personal scale of days seems to drag on, on a broader scale rapidly changes in directions I cannot foresee.
For the past several weeks, as I have been slowly labouring through school assignments and work projects in the isolation of my home office, I have been doing so under the directive to self isolate along with my immediate family. Although this is not the most stringent limitation that a government can put forward (it could, for example, invoke the Emergencies Act and issue an order to shelter-in-place), it nonetheless draws our attention to place as, at the very least, a necessity for practicing the required safety precautions and responsibilities of a citizen.
My place of writing has always been my home office, but have I been so used to its comforts that I have easily accepted a simple view of this place as a luxurious retreat, failing to see the multiple enactments that are converging here. In quarantine, these can no longer be overlooked. Aided by technology, entering are the calls from family members living elsewhere, the constant self-afflicted flow of news reports, and messages from concerned friends and colleagues, turning me into a different kind of writer – more anxious and far less assured of the contributions that my own work can offer the world. When you are not looking for a COVID 19 cure, are unable to 3D print face shields for medical workers, and have no sewing skills for mask-making, is there a point? The little thinking I do is piecemealed as my children, free of school for the foreseeable future, put forth a million “why” questions or act out dramatic performances of not getting along. I move around books stacked on the desk and bookshelves, organizing and making space for more – but I won’t need it as the libraries are closed and delivery services prioritize necessities.
I am living the realization that there is no such a thing as a rational self that always knows, and that I cannot rely on thinking to pull myself from a situation in a manner of Baron Munchhausen.
I also know that despite whatever sorrow and anxiety I am feeling, this place I am in is also a place of settler privilege. The virus has not changed that. I can stay away from inequities lived by those who cannot afford to shelter, or cannot afford a shelter.
One evening, when I cannot not take the slow and ever-so-distracted reading and thinking in this room that has apparently never been just my own, I ventured out to a local park. Accessing the space has been made difficult with roads blocked. Still, I leave the car on the street and transgress. A playground designer breaking the rules, sneaking into a park at sunset – this is new.
I stand close to a border that keeps in the safety surfacing and watch the space. It’s empty of children, yes, but it’s not lifeless. The wind rocks the swings back and forth, and pulls on the caution tape that has been wrapped around the equipment. In a desperate sudden tug, it unravels one end of the tape and throws it into the air. The tape hurls, spasms, yanks at the knot that keeps it from getting away, all in a rhythmic dance, hitting the ground and rising up, wrapping itself around my feet like a giant tentacle plotting to drag me down; or a dog doing a happy dance now that her person is home? Perhaps neither. The analogies are too simplistic, wishing to reduce this act of being to a singularly theatrical moment. Instead, this is an ongoing convergence of plastics, fears, winds, politics, viruses, transgressions, curiosities. Playgrounds have long been the manifestations of protection of innocence of childhood, maintained in separation from the “real world”. But the binary that humans have created and worked so hard to maintain has been rendered, overnight, an impossibility – the virus doesn’t care for boundaries we set up: be those international borders or edges of a playground. The plastic tape that weaves in and out of the plastic equipment tenses with reverberation of a musical string, sags as the wind subsides, and a moment later is thrown into tension once more, and again, and again, and again.
What I am learning, perhaps, in these days of the pandemic is that tension not only cannot be resolved, it cannot be ignored. As Ted T. Aoki writes, “to be alive is to live in tension; that, in fact, it is the tensionality that allows good thoughts and actions to arise when properly tensioned chords are struck, and that tensionless strings are not only unable to give voice to song, but also unable to allow a song to be sung” (2005, 162).
As I return to my home, I try to capture the tensed play of wind and tape with thread and paper. As I work, the news pile up, with everything that is the “old normal” now in question of “when” or “if”: research, design projects, construction permits, conferences, classes. I don’t have the answers of how things will be, but I want to spend time thinking about what kind of designer and writer I am becoming in-between the moments of what was planned and hopped for, and what is and will be.
I wish to resist, following a call put forward by Alexis Shotwell (2020) to “speed-up as a response to the pandemic”, but to dwell in questions. Who does the experience of staying in the closed park, and the wind and that tape obligate me to be? How do I acknowledge, in my work, the fragility or even impossibility of human-imposed boarders? What will my work become when I see that the happenings of these past weeks can only be called a “violation” if I take an exclusively human perspective, and that they are otherwise a way for life to be, for the world to make itself.
Shotwell, A. (2020, April 10). On not writing about what we love. Blog. https://alexisshotwell.com/2020/04/10/on-not-writing-about-what-we-love/
Pinar, W. & Irwin, R. (Eds.) (2005). Curriculum in a New Key: The collected World of Ted T. Aoki. Mahweh, NJ: Erlbaum.