jello

part of the series fallow time: dispatches from a field suspended

my fieldwork is like jello. bear with me.

i am plagued.
with pressures. thoughts. ideas. inspiration. evidence. voices.
but i can’t organize any of it meaningfully.

it’s like a feeling of being trapped, or suspended, buried alive and unable to sprout.

or it’s like this.
i’m driving a truck. and as i carry out my fieldwork, i’m collecting jello. (i’m really collecting stories, and experiences, and information, and ideas, and insights, and pictures, and maps, and directions, and sights and smells and sounds and other things–‘data’ to be cold and clinical about it–but the metaphor works better with jello. whatever flavor you want.)

or maybe, to honor my ongoing botanical/gardening/agricultural metaphor, it’s more like tomatoes. yeah, something juicy, with a bit of squish. or even fertilizer. or compost! donna haraway writes about compost. self-identifying as a compostist (as opposed to a posthumanist), she notes that storytelling is “the seed bag for flourishing for compostists” (2016: 150). building on the work of anna tsing and others, haraway’s children of compost “insist that we need to write stories and live lives of flourishing and for abundance, especially in the teeth of rampaging destruction and impoverisation” (2016: 136). yes. compost seems right for fallow time. i like this idea of data/gatherings/cargo as compost.

compost must be turned over. and then it can turn into something new.

so i do some fieldwork, shovel some jello/tomatoes/fertilizer/compost into the bed of the truck.

this goes on for some months. the truck slowly fills with jello/tomatoes/fertilizer/compost.
and i’m driving along, probably a little too fast if i’m honest, and all of a sudden, something is in the road right in front of me, and i slam on the brakes.

the world stops for a moment, like in a dream.
and then all the jello/tomatoes/fertilizer/compost–a truckload, an abundant harvest, still animated by the momentum of our movement–comes flying forward into the cab of the truck, and hits me in the back of the head.

this reminds me of something sara ahmed wrote recently, drawing on audre lorde:
“i have been thinking about that: how sometimes we have to stop what we are doing to feel the true impact of something, to let our bodies experience that impact, the fury of an escalating injustice, a structure as well as an event; a history, an unfinished history.”*
“sometimes to sustain your commitments,” she says, “you stop what you are doing.” or you are stopped.

she continues, “in stopping, something comes out. we don’t always know what will come out when we stop to register the impact of something. registering impact can be a life-long project. perhaps collectives are assembled so we can share the work of registering the impact of what is ongoing; what is shattering.”

the truck is broken down. the world is broken down.

“i think sometimes you withdraw from a situation – driving a vehicle, being in the driver’s seat – to express your commitments. you close the door; stop the car because you need to get something out; you need to get yourself out.” (ahmed again). we need to get out of here, but all we can do is stay in. but all we can do is stay with the trouble.

this fieldwork thing isn’t fatal. but it is disorienting.
i’ll be scraping jello, tomatoes, fertilizer, compost, all of it, off my windshield for a while.

*thank you to julia tulke for pointing me to this brilliant piece of writing.