Image of Egress in Galway Arts Centre and victorian print of a hand writing

Response to E.gress | essay by Marielle MacLeman

A written response to the film E.gress, by Marielle MacLeman. This work was presented at the Galway E.gress event, in partnership with Galway Arts Centre, on June 1st 2016.

Listen to Marielle reading the essay:


I meet you as I am teetering on two score years, lamenting on squandered time and saying goodbye to one, my elder by two score more, who is owning her farewells and ready to meet her Maker. But you flit between what is lost and what can still be. Your legacy is not yet certain. Your meaning an ever changing story without a narrative – rewritten by those you meet on your way.
I wonder if you know yourself now? Once a series of moments and connections, you were scooped up, considered, and reconfigured to be shone on a screen. But your mercurial ways have you stretching beyond your limits. Somehow your moving walls buttress a space for us to unmute the conversation we’ve been having all this time.
You are a project projecting a future with no pretense of answers. You start with a stop and end without one. Pausing to recall how the rest of your name is spelled, you resume with the ‘ching’ of recognition and exit to the same sound. As though the white glint of her steely eye has flushed the whole place with white to offer us a blank page on which to respond. Or for them to re- emerge – ‘her’ and ‘not her’.
I wish we had met before – when you lingered longer in another room. I could have caught you unawares when you were with him and whatshername, knowing you would tell me the joke I missed – over and over again. I’d have been swept up by the laughter meeting itself in the darkness and the light at the end of the hall might have stretched to touch my face. I’d have seen past his fruitless grasping at the label-less jar to sense that he could still taste its contents.
Instead, across my desk, I meet a meeker you. I call you up in the space where I learn to use my tools. A place of tuition not intuition – of tune in and download. But you seem distant and I can’t read you – quieter amongst the clutter that is not yours. In the right light, I think you might be a thing of beauty but, here, I can interrupt you at anytime.
Our next meeting on your terms, I’m in the dark but enlightened. Seeing you now as the matriarch of an extended family – you give them strength through your very presence and let them do the talking. The empty chairs not redundant, but ready. Like a guest who exits prematurely, you stir the room and leave us deliberating the new layout of the furniture.
It’s not that you’re a troublemaker. You just raise the rules we make for the things that trouble us. I’ve met your type before. I too have made moves with partners in awkward places and tiptoed with loss, but I used to wonder at those who would only cha-cha on the slippery floors of others, and then call that dance their own. The Risk Takers – a troupe I did not understand until I saw their pivotal moves amidst the relieved exchanges of native speakers. Well good for them, I thought. Good for them, for reminding me that I am just like everyone else – too scared to join the conversation because it’s not my mother tongue. I should have known better – knowing the indignation of being shunned because my otherness perturbs. Knowing, in time, when witnessed, they’d understand my meaning where medicine has none.
This is no wanton dalliance. Your brief time with us belies not only our lasting impressions but the long journey you took to be here now. Their big ideas left unspoken at first, biding their time, hoping it would come to them, it would come to them. Unless, of course, it was hoped for too much. For every moment you shared with us, I know you kept countless secrets. The missed, the not recorded, the paused, or the edited – each of them negotiated and deliberated – gut-led and sounded-out with your collaborators.First the Care Givers. As infectious carriers of confidence, without them you would never have been airborne – free to catch the imaginations of those whose trust they earn and harbour. How lightly they must have held you, so that you could find your own step and beat. How daring, how brave they seem. They must have danced with your Makers’ before, perhaps rehearsing to a different tune, but learning their routine.
Then the Consent Givers. Joining in, trusting the Makers to be co-guardians of dignity and to lead the dance, but knowing that they can cut in at any time. And the Makers – consulting the Givers but trusting their own instincts, guarding you and their process. Yet the intentions and agreements on paper are crumpled and discarded by the force of the slightest shift or flit from those in your frames. Having others speak for them at first, it’s their syntax that dictates what unfolds.
Unscripted and left to chance encounters, it is easy to miss your subtle gestures and all they seek to catch. To maintain your beauty regime, blending patience with persistence, they orchestrate happenstance – making requests only of those they know will feel free to say “no”. So we’ll all be there with her at the looking glass, seeing that something has gone wrong on her, on them. I first see violence in the light that scores a face, but she wears it like a badge – commanding their retreats and advances. And who am I to question her moment in the limelight? And didn’t those distant ancestors behind her come in with the Givers anyway – their expectations about to be tested. Now all is said and done, the risk that their version won’t align with the Makers’ one.
E.gress – your own being but good in a crowd, you’re moving on. One foot in the parental home, the other a free spirit – with so many invested, whose responsibility are you now? If you don’t have a narrative, do you really have to end? E.gress, I wonder like her daughter, as you’re leaving – will you come back in the door?

Marielle MacLeman

May 2016

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