Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Balconies is the product of my course on Narrativity and Performance. Working with old photos and a website called imaginary landscapes, I created this video and performed the text pasted below as my classmates sat in a circle around me. It was a privilege to be a part of that day, and getting to watch, hear, and see everyone's narratives and performances unfold. I hope you enjoy this little thing I made. Dedicated to all the balconies I've called home, all the people who are part of those homes, and, of course, my sister who's at the heart of these stories.
(Standing at centre)
Sometime in the late 90s, my sister and I invented this game to pass the time during those long, balmy summer days in our backyard. Stone tiles in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours paved our balcony, and though they were fixed in the ground, they carried us to many different places. We jumped from tile to tile, traveling through space and time and everything in between. This pinkish-brown one might bring us to the Eiffel Tower, a fantasy fostered by the Olsen twins’ “Passport to Paris”, a movie which our parents had rented for us just a few weeks before. This beige one might bring us to the Cretaceous period, where we would walk alongside dinosaurs. This one brought us to the edge of the universe, to the event horizon of a black hole, which was scary and exciting, and we would be the first to discover what lies on the other side.
(Sit down at centre chair, facing the screen)
We travelled together on that balcony, oblivious to the laws of time and physics and possibility. We held each other’s hands to make sure we didn’t get lost in the in between. After all, neither of us wanted to face the tyrannosaurus-rex alone.
The balcony is where I met my sister for the first time. I emptied out my toy box, cleared my shelves, and camped out at the top of the steps, surrounded by thirty stuffed animals, waiting for my parents to pull into the driveway. I was already cooking up games and tea parties in my mind as they walked up to me, laughing. She couldn’t play with me that day, even though I waited so patiently - and I was always told that patience is rewarded. She was too small and too fragile, and I was too excited. I learned quickly that she wasn’t just born my playmate. That this develops over time; that I had to work for it - earn her trust, make her laugh, keep her safe, stand by her, be her sister.
We spent our summers on balconies, in backyards and front yards, coming up with stories, and adventures, and alter egos. We were MMM Spies - for Marsillo, Marsillo, and Maltese, our cousin - and we had utterly convinced ourselves that this undercover villain had followed us back from our trip to Italy, where he had spotted us at an event, booked a ticket on our flight, moved into the apartments in front of our house, and crafted vague evil schemes for an undetermined purpose. On one of our reconnaissance bike missions around the block, my sister fell and scraped her knees. It wasn’t anything terrible, but she was crying and I panicked. I couldn’t carry her and our bikes home, she couldn’t ride her bike back, and, in my mind at the time, it would have been a bad idea for her to walk. I couldn’t get my parents and leave her there alone. I ripped leaves off of the nearest bush and tried to stop the bleeding with them, and we hobbled home, my sister holding the bundles of leaves against her knees, leaving the bikes behind. I felt responsible.
We were the next Spice Girls -- W.O.W., an acronym for literally nothing, it just spelled wow. We didn’t sing or dance very well, but we wrote songs, designed costumes and hairstyles, and had a really great aesthetic. We were actors and playwrights, the balconies were our stages. We were artists, chalk in hand, and the balconies were our canvases while our parents weren’t looking. We were conspiracy theorists and secret agents and the balconies were our hideouts and headquarters. We were party planners and our balconies hosted banquets, dinners, and luncheons set with sturdy plastic furniture in primary colours and fancy folded napkins.
Balconies are for family. Balconies are for storytelling. “That’s our performance, true storytelling. [...] The ultimate performance for a historian is truthfulness.” As we got older, balconies became about chit chats late into the night. Summer nights with neighbours and cold coffee and gossip. Balconies are open doors. When I think of the balconies in my life, I imagine open doors behind them.
I imagine the sounds - heavy wooden doors, swollen and humid from the Montreal heat, unsticking from their frames with a generous push; screen doors sliding open like a zipper, cutting through the chirps of the cicadas. The balconies have other sounds, too. Loud voices, long stories that twist and turn with interruptions, laughter. Balconies are laughter. And when balconies are rustling leaves, rolling tires, walking dogs, they’re silence.
(Pause, and walk to chair in the circle)
I feel like I can talk on and on and on about balconies, but I don’t know what to say. Do you know the feeling? Somewhere, some part, some ghost of a thought in your body has it all figured out and it’s desperately trying to make you get it. But you can’t always do it justice. I remember the balconies, I can picture the balconies, I still live with those balconies in places I call home, but what they want me to know, what they whisper to the ghosts of thoughts in my body cannot be translated. And so I grasp at straws, I tell half-stories that make me smile, I recreate new balconies where these stories can live, comfortably, as a series of actions and interactions with imagined meanings and deep signficances and all those literary devices we learn about in school. Foreshadowing. Allusion. Hyperbole.
“That’s our performance, true storytelling.”
And so, to tell you about our balconies is to tell you about all the imaginary places we inhabited. It’s to have conversations with spaces that may or may not have been real, but not worrying about those distinctions. It’s to accept that I’m telling you something in between - it’s the feeling of those nanoseconds in the air, as we jumped from one stone to another, when we felt not quite here or there. When time compressed, realities collided, and the possibilities were endless. And it’s to tell you about my own imaginaries, here, now, as I perform my memory of who we were, who we wanted to be, on those balconies.
And I always come back to this game. It’s not something we reminisce about - it lives in my head now. I think there’s something special about these unspoken memories. It’s their ghostliness. And so it haunts me today as it did last year. And as it did two years ago, when, reading a book for class, I was drawn in by these words: “Sometimes, after the lights are put out, I say to Alinka, “I’m not Eva, I’m Eva’s ghost,” but I scare myself by this almost as much as I scare her; perhaps I am a ghost. Perhaps I’m just imagining that I’m me.” As I listen to these pictures go by, as I watch them fade into each other, perhaps I’m just imagining that I’m me. As I remember what it felt like to be racing towards the centre of a black hole with my sister by my side, perhaps I’m just imagining that I’m me. I’m Cassandra’s ghost.
(walk back to centre chair)
I’m Cassandra’s ghost.
I love this photo. Even in its stillness, you can feel the movement. And sometimes I swear that I can see the carousel move.
Or the wind ruffle my hair.
Or my sister’s head turn.
Greg Dening "Performing on the Beaches of the Mind: An Essay" Joan Scott "Storytelling"
Eva Hoffman Lost in Translation
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