Michelle Ellsworth: Brilliance in…
- give (someone or oneself) a different appearance in order to conceal one’s identity
- make (something) unrecognizable by altering its appearance, sound, taste, or smell
- conceal the nature or existence of (a feeling or situation)
- a means of altering one’s appearance or concealing one’s identity
- the state of having altered one’s appearance in order to conceal one’s identity
Yes, but brilliance disguised as what? I don’t know yet—stick with me and it may become clear. (Then again, it may not, but it’ll be fun at least for one of us—hopefully you, if not me as well.)
50 million : 2 million
extinction of unknown species
Shape of books
At least I had/have some idea what these words meant—in their literal, etymological form, that is. Why I wrote them is another story. All, clearly, are open for conversation, and by day two it was quite obvious that Michelle Ellsworth is a woman who values conversation. Meaningful conversation. Which I love, even as I struggle to be an active participant.
The objective of day two, it seemed, was to delve further into obsolescence with a view to what it—the word, the definition, the myriad things thus affected—means to us personally. To find a way to connect with and so enter into dialogue with obsolescence. To this end, we spent the first half of class bottling our fears. No, not really. Only I did that, because as I’ve said, the idea of obsolescence is not one I embrace. Rather I find it frightening in a damn-it-all-to-hell, you-mean-I-can’t-fix-this? sort of way.
Laying out a collection of small glass bottles that looked like they came straight from a druggist—illegal or otherwise—and had been recently emptied, rinsed, and sterilized, Ellsworth instructed us to fill them with things we, in the event of their eminent demise, would want to preserve.
“Think of it (the exercise),” she instructed, “as leaving evidence of something unknown.”
A directive to which we, eight more or less intelligent students, responded by chewing on our pencil tips and trying to look thoughtful.
“Try not,” she continued over the sounds of our chewing, “to be too literal. Think of emotions/ideas/experiences/ambitions as species.”
There was a brief, almost imperceptible pause in our chewing.
“Think of your body,” yes, yes, we were with her now! “as an ecosystem!”
“I,” she then confided,” sometimes like to fill my bottles with spit. I have a collection.”
And here again was a small wave of relief: Ellsworth is brilliant for sure, but spit? Really? Blood donations and urine samples aside, the thought of even placing, much less SAVING, any body fluid in any container other than a napkin, tissue, or toilet is, to my Howard Hughes in training OCD brain, repulsive. And yet… I was relieved, because I love knowing that even brilliant people are normal in their own idiosyncratic ways. I love knowing that Einstein was a suck student who married his cousin, that Pythagoras thought beans were “evil,” and that Nikola Tesla wouldn’t touch anything round. And I found it entirely endearing that Michelle Ellsworth saves her spit. That, by the end of the week, I also found such practice artistically expressive and even intellectually edifying is further proof of her genius.
Anyway, back to the bottles. How would I fill mine? With words, of course. Some cut, teeny letter by teeny letter, from the SWP catalogue, others written, then erased, then saved as dust from the blackboard. I kind of like my bottle, and it did lead me, as Ellsworth promised to greater things.
And so I recommend this activity to you today. Think about obsolescence, what that means to you, and fill the container of your choice with some symbol representing that thing, or that meaning. And please, let me hear how it goes.
Then I’ll tell you what else I’m saving.