“Terrible Girls” by Jennifer Patterson
Inspiration moves between their bodies and mine. We try to catch it, trace its lines on paper.
Petra Rowan Rhines brought me to Helene Cixous and one time, from an airplane, she texted me a long passage from Cixous. I imagined her, Petra, peering out of her window trying to find me below the cloud cover in a valley between two mountains. (Always in between.) She is very good at finding me there.
Cixous speaks of the three steps on the ladder of writing(1), the three bodies, and one of them is dead. We are always writing from inside a death, or before or after a death, always writing from these dead bodies. I go towards these bodies, the ones consumed by fire, the writer as witness to fire and also the dead body, I write from the rubble and ash.
Helene Cixous brought me to Clarice Lispector and Clarice Lispector doesn’t want to bring me anywhere except everywhere. She is man and woman writer at the same time, sometimes: (w)ho hasn’t ever wondered am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?(2)
I think of the monsters we find in ourselves, in our writing, of those writers who write into the terrible places, the dangerous places. Liz Latty writes towards and then into monsters: writes as a terrible girl(3) as a failed girl as a failed body as a survivor body, like mine and also not like mine. She gives language to the embodiment of our messy masses. She and I, a different kind of similar, a kind of mirror and I’m always looking for a mirror. Holding hands with old failed bodies, trying to slip into new.
A past lover, with their healing hands, bringing me into a new way of knowing my body, a way of knowing pleasure and pain, supporting me as I move through trauma, through traumatic release. Writing me letters and notes to keep me moving along the path, reminding me that I have already fought the dragons and won. Being both muse and teacher, holder and healer. Showing me how to be both with and without them. We are still before the time where it hurts more than it heals but that time is indeed on the horizon. Some of this gratitude will turn to fire burning up a river with no end.
My favorite beautiful failed burning bodies and now I’m thinking of other terrible girls who are also wildly full of light and heat. I’m thinking of an old friend. A beloved. How I can find her words in my mind many days but can’t always find her in books, can’t always find her body in the current mainstream feminist conversation. How she strings together words in a way that doesn’t always make other people comfortable but helps other people feel loved and seen. I feel loved and seen when I read her words or when we share a tiny backyard pool and we are just talking about our bathing suits. How our bodies are always colliding into each other and also slipping past each other. How I can’t know my body my survivorhood if I don’t also always look for her hand, if I’m not burning my body to the ground so that I can dig through the rubble to find hers.
Now we are distant, in each other’s pasts. The bodies no longer colliding but only slipping past. Time wears on connection, on relationships. The change that sometimes arises when we get too close, see too much. Lose each other or leave each other.
Lines upon lines of terrible girls holding hands. And what is a girl but a rupture. A fracture into something else and we don’t always know the shape of them but we know her when we see them. And what is a girl but not always a girl either. The binary erases.
Inspiration flows this way, in between bodies and mountains, settling into hands and valleys, starting fires and putting them out too. Ruptures and repairs.
I want to burn into a pile of words, a pile of rubble holding my terrible girls’ hands as we rise into a bigger badder new body.
(1)Helene Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing
(2)Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star
(3)Liz Latty’s Goddard College MFA thesis title
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Jennifer Patterson Artist Statement:
Jennifer Patterson is a poet/writer, grief worker, creative and herbalist who uses words,
threads and plants to explore queer survivorhood, the body and healing. She is the editor
of the anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual
Violence Movement (Magnus/ Riverdale Ave Books, 2016), facilitates trauma-focused
writing workshops and has had writing published in OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts,
on The Establishment, the Outrider Review, and on The Feminist Wire. Jennifer also
finished a graduate program at Goddard College focused on translating
embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative
writing. You can find more at ofthebody.net.