the feeling that moves us
Content warning: Please be aware that this piece of writing contains an implicit reference to suicide and meditations on experiencing the sudden death of a friend. Please take care in reading this piece, and be aware of these resources while you are reading, and after reading: Lifeline provided 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services; call 13 11 14. Beyond Blue aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and offers phone and online mental health services; call 1300 22 4636 or go to Beyond Blue’s website for further information.
The first funeral I ever attended was via livestream.
I had thought that the first funeral I would attend would be that of a relative, in person and surrounded by loved ones; not that of a friend, online, at home by myself and lying in bed. I remember sending and receiving messages of love, care, and support on this day as over 150 people gathered together across numerous livestream locations (either at home or at one of the few church venues) to celebrate the life of P.
The last time I saw P was a few months ago at my home when he came to visit and pick up our friend C. The greeting was always the same: open arms, massive smile, and a loud “KUMUSTA ATE!”, even though I was the younger one.
The second last time I saw P was at Sissy Ball earlier this year when when B ordered over the microphone for queer and trans people of colour to make their way to the front. Without flinching, he moved through the dense crowd to the catwalk.
When I first sat down to write fragments of this text, I’d been reading about improvisation and embodied movement. I intended to write in dialogue with the five-week-long programming of Soothsayer Serenades by Amrita Hepi which was created as a promise – a promise (along with a playlist and provocation) to move together with no proof of presence and no need to visualise. Amrita elaborates, just moving or dancing, walking or gardening, together in our varied spaces, all at the same time. I would write in time as a way of reflecting on the possibilities and constraints of movement in this world and how one might choose to orient their movements toward another world. But I couldn’t separate this task from P’s sudden passing, my mother’s admission to a psychiatric ward, and my father’s vascular dementia diagnosis – all of which spanned the duration of Soothsayer Serenades and the time of writing this essay.
Grief and mourning, love and desire, movement and constraint, and embodiment and improvisation are all distinctly complex feelings and actions that have become deeply and helplessly entangled with one another during this time.
In a way, everyone is experiencing some sort of grief right now.
J emails me a PDF of Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief to read. In it, Cindy Milstein tells us that writing about grief is remembering it, and dismembering it too, thereby discovering all sorts of aches and pains that one hadn’t seen at the original time of loss and mourning. Further, Benji Hart reminds us It is not merely OK to grieve. It is wholly necessary if we are to remain connected to our collective power, truly invested in our liberation, and whole enough to sustain ourselves in struggle – and in solidarity.
As I write, it has been six months into the heavy world of COVID-19, a global pandemic that has in one way or another motioned a sense of grief, loss, or mourning into our everyday. Already existing inequalities seen across lines of race, gender, class, and (dis)ability have become amplified. We witness and experience constraint and exhaustion in unequal and distinct ways: restrictive social regulations and physical distancing, job cuts, protests, increased surveillance and policing, border closures, travel bans, so forth. We scroll through the news, checking hotspots, live updates, the death toll for the previous day. We digest infographics, charts, and statistics, consume information, make choices, all in the hope of ‘flattening the curve’. We send and receive emails, hoping one is staying safe and keeping well. We avoid crowds, gather in careful numbers, keep to our homes. We take part in small pleasures when we can (baking bread, sharing recipes, pdfs, and making playlists). We do this to soothe and console ourselves and each other, to remember that we are in this together, despite being physically apart.
The Old English word sōth or sōthian, meaning ‘verify, show to be true,’ or ‘true,’ has produced two distinct words and definitions:
- Soothe: ‘to please by or as if by attention or concern,’ ‘to bring comfort, solace, or reassurance to,’ ‘to bring peace, composure, or quietude.’ As a verb, soothe or soothing, is signified by feeling, usually in relation to something painful or discomforting, and thus, is bound to the senses of the body.
- Sooth: ‘truth’ and ‘reality.’ As a noun, sooth is tied up more with factuality.
There is always some truth to a feeling, and feelings can be true, though feelings aren’t necessarily always truths. On collective feelings and how we come to feel about one another, Sara Ahmed writes feelings rehearse associations that are already in place, in the way in which they ‘read’ the proximity of others, at the same time as they establish the ‘truth’ of the reading.
It is interesting then to consider the word soothsayer which is defined as “a person who predicts the future by magical, intuitive, or more rational means.” Soothsayers are also known as diviners, forecasters, foreseers, fortune-tellers, and futurists. In this sense, truth and reality as well as feeling and sensing become enmeshed, moving toward future-oriented practices of imagining, speculating, and world-making.
How do we move together when we are apart? How might a gesture ask us to pause and consider our ‘response-ability’?
Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the promise of doing so.
Henri Lefebvre writes disruptions and crises always have origins in and effects on rhythms.
This is how I’ve been thinking about Soothsayer Serenades with Amrita Hepi, which was commissioned by Cement Fondu (8 July – 6 August, 2020) as part of their online exhibition Don’t Let Yourself Go, a self-help guide ‘dedicated to sharing lessons, ideas and tools that will help you find meaning from the challenges of life during lockdown.’ At 4pm every Wednesday over five weeks, a short Spotify playlist and provocation was released by Amrita and invited artists Sezzo, Linda Marigliano, Nadia Hernandez, and Sofiyah Ruqayah, as a way of ‘moving and dancing together in our varied spaces at the same time with no evidence other than the commitment, communion, and vow of others.’ It is a twofold gesture: against the flat online market-driven interfaces of Zoom and Instagram Live, and toward a relational mode of being psychically connected (through movement) across shared but disparate temporalities and locations. In the context of COVID-19, where movement(s) – bodily, socio-political, and collective – are mediated, restricted, and recalibrated, we might ask these questions: How might gestures or provocations like Amrita’s make palpable alternative ways of being/moving together?
I am reminded of an interview with choreographer Meg Stuart talking about cellular memory, shamans, ‘tuning in’, and her body as an archive. Stuart says that there are invisible forces or presences that are moving me. Our bodies are embedded with histories and memories that come before us, the same way that our bodies accumulate histories and memories as we move with, in, against, and through the world. I think of Julietta Singh, who encourages us to think and move toward other modes of relational being that may not yet be recognizable.
Amrita prompts us: I take your hand in my hand and across the floor – the rest is up to you.
Amrita again: Be rigorous with the melancholy.
Over five weeks, I listen and move to these playlists and provocations when I can, both in and out of time. I listen to the lyrics and rhythms of each song intently, searching for words to jot down and sounds to describe in a document. I focus too much on this at first in the hopes of trying to log my participation and not letting myself ‘shut off’ to the timbre and drumbeat of the music. Attempts at dancing by myself in the living room turns to stretching in the hallway turns to crying in a parked car outside L’s work turns to staying still on the train to the hospital turns to calling Dad to remind him to keep making lists turns to drawing smiley faces on the foggy window in the car turns to dancing in the kitchen and pulling noodles. As I promise to dance to Soothsayer, I find that I’m doing more listening than moving but I think in a way listening is also moving and moving is also a kind of listening. Listening becomes moving and moving listening, particularly to the rhythm, the lyric, the call, or the feeling that moves us.
I think of the interview where Fred Moten speaks about improvisation in the way of paying attention to our history as a method of survival. Moten says Improvisation is life. We don’t have any foresight about what happens next. We prepare ourselves as rigorously as we can, and improvisers prepare, they prepare for the unforeseen because that’s what life is, the unforeseen.
In Amrita’s Soothsayer Serenades an interval opens up through the mode of call and response as we allocate a time each week to moving and being together. In this interval, our response interrupts and negotiates the habituated rhythms of our everyday life, even in stillness. There is a psychic, communal, and sensorial presence that resounds in this commitment to intentionally pausing and moving together, and in doing so, encourages us in one way or another to move differently. We might move similarly to media control symbols: playing, pausing, rewinding, repeating, muting, shuffling, skipping forward or backward. Or, we might move in new ways. If we listen closely to the soothsayer and respond carefully, or indeed become the sage ourselves, what may be revealed to us is this kind of magic
in togetherness present in both psychic and physical space. 
There is this fantastic image of A, C, and P on the staircase at their old house. A, dressed in a black suit with only one middle button done up on their jacket, is at the top of the staircase, resting their bent leg on the wooden railing to their right as they are supported by the other railing on their left. A couple steps below, C dons a spiked black choker, tape over their nipples, a black denim jacket and shorts, resting one of their legs on P’s back turned to us and holding onto a long metal chain fastened to his black leather harness. All of them are holding their pose, gazing seriously at the camera, being still in what otherwise was a night of debaucherous dance and desire.
P loved to dance. I remember the energy P embodied on the dancefloor that night, the same way he did at all the parties or events he held in his house or at the ball earlier this year, gyrating his hips to the deepness of the music – always sultry, passionate, and wild. He also had a special way with words; this same energy also manifested in his many speeches which were so carefully and beautifully articulated, yet always wholly improvised.
I think about a particular sentence from the image caption P posted under an image of B after the night of Sissy Ball that reads, “I felt queer power descend into the room. And our queer power is this: liberation – socially, culturally, politically, psychologically, physically and spiritually – total and absolute.” This is what he worked towards every day in his life: liberation for all of those whose movements have been constrained unevenly and unequally.
In the final week of Soothsayer Serenades and on the night of the new full moon in Aquarius, C posts on their Instagram story: “Aquarius is The Star tarot card, the cleansing healer, the humanitarian, one that works for the collective. Look at how we gather together, and work to heal the collective. Look how things change. Look how time heals, ages, dies, and blooms anew again.” We gather and grieve together in person and online. We post in Facebook group messages, organise events and archive photos, videos, and poems of P’s in a shared Google Drive. The event of death is mediated through these technologies and shared social practices as our grief is posted, dragged and dropped, reacted to and commented on. Our experience of relational loss in some ways became tethered to these online spaces as we were able to mourn together, pay tribute, continue community, and share support resources.
A few days later in a message celebrating P, B tells me that “Filipinos are magical” and “there’s no denying our knowing and awareness of each other.” I hold onto these words with a tight grip.
I think there is something felt in this kind of knowing and awareness that moves us all.
The late dancer and activist Randy Martin wrote dancing bodies reference a social kinaesthetic, a sentient apprehension of movement and a sense of possibility as to where motion can lead us, that amounts to a material amalgamation of thinking and doing as world-making activity. For Martin, the dancing and moving body is marked and indexed and by a complex genealogy of social, cultural, and political histories and knowledge.
I am circling back and thinking again of how improvised dance cuts through time that opens up or speaks to an interval. In this process, the dancing or moving body becomes implicated in methods of ‘echoing,’ ‘resounding,’ ‘calling upon,’ vocabularies of movement both embedded and accumulated. Again, this shapes and is shaped by how we move in, against, and through the world.
I like to think that this is done carefully and intentionally, and where thinking and moving together differently, or toward alternative futures, is already in motion.
In loving, eternal memory of P.
Written on Gadigal-Wangal land.
 I borrow this term and questioning from Rebecca Schneider and Lucia Ruprecht, “In Our Hands: An Ethics of Gestural Response-Ability: Rebecca Schneider in Conversation with Lucia Ruprecht”, Performance Philosophy, Vol. 3(1): 108-125, 2017, p. 116.
 Sab D’Souza: “I feel like this is interesting because perhaps the flatness of these gestures speaks to the fact that they are attempting to make us move in a way that doesn’t acknowledge the change to rhythm? (i.e. the new normal) like transposing one rigid way of moving (towards and in support of capitalism) into another ??? despite it being absolutely inappropriate ?? like zoom and insta live allow us to do panels and lecture and teach, but they don’t disrupt the status quo, and therefore don’t allow us to consider if we should even be moving in this particular way????”
 Paolo Arimado.
 Carla Jamieson.
 Bhenji Ra.
June Miskell is a Filipinx-Australian writer, editor, and teacher living on unceded Wangal land. She holds a BA in Art Theory (First Class Honours) from UNSW Art & Design, where she is a casual academic teaching contemporary art theory/history. She currently sits on the board of Runway Journal as an Assistant Editor and Secretary. Her writing has been commissioned for exhibition catalogues and programs by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Murray Art Museum Albury, Artbank, and Bus Projects. More of her writing has been published by Running Dog, Runway Journal, and unProject’s unExtended, among others.