Sunday, November 11, 2018

the three mothers

1. suspiria/mother of sighs

“When women tell you the truth, you don’t pity them, you accuse them of delusion.” –Suspiria, 2018

Susie is the new girl in the dance troupe, pulled from the flat fields of Ohio as if by an umbilical cord, to a Berlin still catching its breath from the war. The Helena Markos company is a palace of mirrors, where dancers’ bodies twist and break as dancers’ bodies do, to live a story larger than any one ugly foot on one wooden floor. Susie says: More, please.

Sara is an unknowing ambassador to the cabinet of curiosities that lurks beneath the floorboards, with the hair and wrecked bodies and bespoke metal hooks. She is a sweet English rose.

Dr. Klemperer is an old psychoanalyst who does not believe in witches or ghosts, but he lost his true love to the Third Reich. He believes in what a group of people can do, when organized, to other people.

More, please.
Sara and Dr. Klemperer meet over trembling teacups. I think I am supposed to root for them to get to the root of this evil, for Sara to land in some sunlit room, and this knowledge is a kind of sigh.

Madame Blanc is the maestro with no eyebrows or lashes who says: “After the war, there are two things dance can never be again. Those things are beautiful, and cheerful.”

I cannot turn my face toward cheer, and this film won’t make me do it. It is a sigh of relief, this new knowledge.

Susie says: “Why are you so afraid of the mess that’s still to come?”

I am afraid. In the dark theater, I lean into the bloodbath. I crave this world of women as sex and unsex, life and afterlife, intestines and beating hearts, easy as a pear to slice, hard as folklore to destroy.

If you want to see a movie that both features Tilda Swinton and is the cinematic embodiment of Tilda Swinton, Suspiria is that movie.
But at night I transform my fear of mess into the banal, my own alchemy. I have done the reverse before—turned a dull ache into the apocalypse—and I know the ins and outs of such spells. What if AK’s headaches last forever? What if I become only a body shuttling to and from one kind of work to another kind of work? What if my body fails?

We cut our son’s umbilical cord when he was born. His birthmother in the room, bloody. It was magical and cruel, simple and sterile. It wasn’t spaghetti; it was thick, durable, like something from the bottom of the ocean.

2. the dream/mother of darkness

It is not a true crime podcast, but it unfolds like one. Or: It is the truest crime. Our host, from a flat farm town in Michigan, recalls the Mary Kay parties of her youth. The women who gathered and laughed, told stories about tangled pantyhose and a grandmother who wore furs as a child, ate Jell-o, sold each other lipstick.

There are women and warmth and camaraderie, promises of beauty and riches, and this is how the cults get you. Not a pyramid, they say, just a structure that happens to be large at the bottom and small at the top. Guess which part you’re on.

Our host takes us through legal cases and a bit of stunt journalism, signing up her coworker to sell beauty products whose names are modified by adjectives like: perfect, enduring, rich.

I am horrified by this spell in plain sight. Betsy DeVos is an Amway heir. Donald Trump flew to the White House on Amway air. He is made of air.

Flashing gang signs. Someone issue an injunction, please.
The message of every multilevel marketing training is: If this isn’t working for you, the problem is you. You must not be perfect. If you cannot endure, you will never be rich. The message of America is this, also.

I fall for the spell. I know what it is to hustle, in a nonprofit sort of way; I know what is easy and what is not. And yet that makeup sparkles like mica in a gum-pocked sidewalk. The idea of myself in a pinstriped girl-boss suit holds a certain appeal. I was raised on the myth of meritocracy, as American as fat-free Devil’s Food SnackWells.

3. seven/mother of tears

Today I would be the mother of seven-year-olds. Two boys who were only ever tissue and blood. I am only tissue and blood.

A cyst that has not drawn any blood vessels to it is probably benign. I am probably benign.

A headache that retracts with rest is probably benign. A mystery to be unraveled one pill and one yoga class at a time, not a single thing to be attacked with a scalpel. Or so we have reason to believe, even though I don’t completely believe in reason anymore. Even as I say my incantations to the gods of Google.

The mind-body connection is real, but is has been borrowed by the Mother of Darkness, sold as Herbalife and Isotonix. You must be the reason for your headaches, your lack of sales, your dead babies. Do not look over there. Do not look at that man made of air or the pyramid behind him.

How to take a thing that is kind of true and turn it into a zillion dollar quackery industry.
I want to stage a cry-in. Me and all the people fucked so much harder than me, who have learned not to fear the mess. I fear the mess. But for the purposes of this spell, let’s say that I don’t. All of us will summon our salt tears and make a tsunami. Turn the pyramid back into sand. Wiggle our ugly toes in it.

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