I was there at my grandma’s house, and she could see me, she was in a good mood. She was imp-like and dancing round happily, happier than usual. She always treated me as an equal, as an adult or like her and for some reason she never seemed old. We ran around the garden, no – she told me to go and dig up the boxes from the garden. There were 2 wooden boxes, one was hers and the other was mine.
I had almost entirely forgotten until that prompt. I have a vague recollection of mine; at the time I didn’t want it. Even though, things might be different now. It was buried in a box coffin, as was my grandmas.
We took the boxes into the living room to open them up. You could hear the fire was roaring and threw out an orange cast on our backs.
Every so often we need to get them out, look at them, feel how cold they are, see their dollishness and change their clothes. We sat in front of the fire facing the windows onto the garden – the deep blue night grain shifted to a more familiar daylight grey fog fuzz, and that is all I remember.
In my work I go through various stages of being seen and not. The spectrum of this is impossibly profound. I’m never quite sure which Francesca Steele I am going to be perceived as. There’s the one only whispered about, Or the other, that “you can’t believe it’s her”.
At points within these different stages of visibility, I ride an unexpected wave and whilst shopping or walking or asking a question in a lecture become totally invisible. I don’t know how I do it, but it happens I completely disappear. Even my voice becomes paralysed and can only squeak, but then thinks “maybe I shouldn’t be here either” and disappears more.
The only problem is if I become apparent, I’m so full of frustration or confusion, assertion and expression, I don’t know what to do. It’s too much and not controlled, it says odd things and turns the spotlight on itself. It talks nonstop nervously, goes to far, says too much, asks too many questions, says things that other people only think, then stops – And wishes it could sweetly scale down to a full stop and stay there at the end.
Increased physical strength is one of many consequences of bodybuilding, but the recipe itself works to break-down, build-up and create shape in muscle. A further intertwined consequence, found deepest within the muscle, is that bodybuilding provides an opportunity; the chance to refocus or ‘prompt’ to look inside.
To roll my eyes inwards and pursue my personal mental landscape – my own maze, with only myself as witness. The outside might be sweating, pushing, contracting tissue. On the inside I calmly pick up and move obstacles effortlessly through dark muted and harmonious tones, repeated until I easily gain failure.
I stay long enough to momentarily forget, when re-delivered the comparison is stark. The swift and sweaty return stuns.
Evolving questions: Practice involves trauma, when visible, it becomes excruciating. Is this a kind authentication? Could these shifts be easier? I’m drawn to things that make me feel vulnerable, that pull and push, shock or scare -or is that the remnant or afterglow I leave for myself? The process happens with all of the work; bodybuilding, performance, one-to-one and writing.
Daniel Oliver’s Neurodiversity Writing Retreat to the prompt word of neurotypical.
Today I am feeling full of nerves, like my body is fizzing, like the stress is bubbling over – I can’t pinpoint the reason or where it is coming from in my body – the virus news or the fact I have pages and pages of marking to do & that my articulations are too long and hard work to make sense of.
My head, my nasal passage, my navel, my back passage all inflamed and not thinking straight – I’d like to be less nervous or less gibberish – but waiting for the effervescing to leave or wear itself out. Whatever, my body has an agenda.
Which strand of non-typical does the iterations come from, I’m told I romanticise difficult issues and talk viscerally or visually – in art is that not a skill? Writing works best for me when it flows – today is barred from that ease. Constantly looking for something to put right or waiting to be put right, not quite in control, drunk without the alcohol, feeling fallout I can’t quite touch. High on unrooted nerves.
Making the work because I felt I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to say or form sentences – or even engage an audible voice. Relying on facial expression or a poker face, to get into where the crowd was and then still not quite fitting. Literally having the opposite thought to the rest of the class and self-marginalising.
Not being able to tell the difference between a word, a thought, a body or a being. All amplified as colour or an electric nerve pain, or both clouded and sharp. Still trying to shift the right bit into focus, the bit I want you to see. Could it be something about learning to hide yourself and then becoming scared of your reflection.
With no audience: A new facet of training (or now, often, not training) in a domestic environment is the pronounced lack of audience – or, the people that come to the same place to do the same thing as me, at the same time. Accidently and politely we learn each other’s routines, just as well as we know our own – the gym becomes clockwork maintaining each other’s rotas of particular machines, at particular times and small or silent acknowledgements.
My motivation is slipping without those who casually looked, watched and noted how I was doing, those who witnessed and supported what my body or attitude revealed. Each rotation of clockwork is a marker, another small check-in where we become intuitively aware of how each other is progressing.
Sometimes motivation forms from jealously or aspiration, it can come from a need to escape – or to get to somewhere else. But without the people that come to the same place to do the same thing as me, at the same time – I seem to have lost a reflection that kept me locked in.
Domestic turn: Shifting my training routine to a home-environment is bringing with it lots of unexpected sensations. Weights seem heavier, supports (including chairs) are the wrong position or height for training, as a consequence I am feeling much more injured. This comes after waiting at least a month, maybe 5 or 6 weeks for my left knee to heal – after turning it slightly in the wrong direction, a minor rotation that put me out of action. Maybe my age is showing through my body. Maybe healing is taking longer.
Yes, at home, I cannot go full power. My weights lie on a dark teal silky shaggy rug, dotted around a sofa and padded ottoman that has become my chest press flat bench. There is little room and no mirror, it is impossible to check my form – it’s all happening in my head and I’m clearly not quite getting it right. Gym equipment colliding, engulfing colour schemes making intriguing, almost exciting combinations. Movements and actions need to be adjusted to the new parameters – avoiding the low lampshade, and my collections of trinkets; the many armed doll, Franko’s stitches and grandparents nick-knacks. All now part of my gym, forming an imitation audience of the one I hadn’t quite acknowledged that I had – or that I performed for.
So, in the gym, you constantly judge yourself in relation to other people. The gym is a place of transformation and everyone there is moving along their own axis – back and forth, maybe with slight adjustments, and then back and forth. This is all visible, in that way, the gym is an honest place. You see people try to do things and fail, here, failure after failure becomes success. Real failure is getting fat or not coming to the gym for a prolonged period, but you can always turn that into a success story.
Trained chest. I noticed that one arm twisted in an unusual fashion under weights – it made my body look weird and horrific. Dislocated and uneven. More concerning was that there was no pain – just distortion. My arm and shoulder just naturally took on a strange collapse or backward twist that made my arm feel and look much shorter than the other. It did not hurt.
My body is hypermobile, my hips are back are ‘slack’ whilst my arms bend in unusual movements. My nerves twist and electrocute through the motions that raise responsive electric storms in my lower back and shoot off across my buttocks down to my feet, where they shoot from my sole into the beyond.
I need to align, today one foot walked on its side, I felt re-balance of fragmentary counteraction reaching through injuries, muscle, fat and statue. I stand, wonky scarecrow – thinking about how to fix, feel and elevate the countless actions that have created this incongruent whole. Nearly monster.
Arms in the gym, the workout felt well-rounded and not too hard.
Eyes turned inwards, imagining myself as a hypnotised shaman or fortune- teller with blue painted skin. Thinking about Cindy Sherman exhibition at the portrait gallery – I think there was a picture like this. I imagined my eyes spinning backwards.
Whilst training I closed my eyes to try to locate the muscles that I targeting. Some emovement felt a jumbled message, searching through the muscle fibres as if I was searching through the jungle.
Sometimes I could locate the right place, other times not – hit and miss. I feel motivated and well but nauseous from training.
Woke up at 5am to be able to drive to the gym for 6am. I felt muffled and ‘vagued-out’ by sleep or lack of it. I had been awake since 3 on and off with awareness of a different pace.
My shoulders hurt from yesterday’s training – and I trained chest today. Maybe I need to split these body sections up, I think they are too close, they both use elements of the same pressing motion and I think irritate and constrict each other. Note to adapt my plan.
The training I’ve started now is more ‘rounded’ than before; I try to hit muscles from different directions – I did this before, but it was more based on gaining size, so big heavy compound movements initially. I’m now doing a range of exercises that target muscles on different axis, that’s how it feels. I choose the exercises which I remember, and can do, for some reason I’m just not comfortable with others, just forget or don’t register some – why? I can’t yet articulate, maybe discomfort, uncertainty, feeling of exposure, not challenging enough, or can’t make that particular mind-muscle connection.
I don’t have a particular goal in mind apart from losing fat – and maybe re-revealing re-finding some of what I built through the past. I can see my body is forever changed and forever changing; without illness or extreme diet I will never have skinny legs, I have a thick waist from heavy squatting and leg press, my shoulders are rounded (not ‘capped’) bigger than before bodybuilding.
Losing fat both thrills and feels like mourning. I exercise through the fat that I inhaled and lived-in during grief – it now breathes as exhalations of past and present emotion, making shifts and becoming energy.