Incremental Light: A Conversation Between Stacy Elaine Dacheux and Richard Froude

Incremental Light

Richard Froude: It seems so important to have experiences. That sounds obvious but I am interested in whether there is a difference between a physical experience that pushes into the world (something like, playing soccer) as opposed to the more cerebral or abstract experience of, for example, deconstruction of language.

In that regard, how has showering at night instead of in the morning affected/changed your life?

Stacy Elaine Dacheux: Instead of using water to wake up, I use it to wind down. Maybe showers are like aloha in this way? I don’t know. Ha. Right now, it’s hot here in LA. There is a drought. I don’t really have air conditioning. My body is always slathered with sunscreen because, instead of driving, I walk everywhere under the relentless sun. So, my body is always super dirty by bedtime. It feels so nice to literally and psychologically wash the day away, then to sit and watch television or read with my hair wet, the soft night breeze blowing through the open window.

Recently, I remembered that, growing up outside Boston, my father only took showers at night. He taught Gross Anatomy. So, the smells on his body were unpleasant after work. As you know, he died a few years ago. I had completely forgotten this aspect of his life.

My own new showering at night ritual unintentionally triggers these memories of my youth — the feeling of being settled and quiet in the suburbs of summer. I think, maybe in some ways, I am adopting this ritual in an attempt to feel this way again, to experientially connect with a peaceful feeling from my past, to be close to my family because we live so far away now, to connect with aspects of myself that are like my father, and maybe all this is working, so my life is not necessarily changed, but reminded of the past and how the past maybe is not always over like we think it is.

How does having a child affect your own awareness of ritual or routine?

RF: It makes me very aware of it, because I am always on the clock: to potty time, to snack time, to nap time, to the end of nap time. But it feels much more like routine than ritual. When I see this 20 month old learning the very specific order in which we do things, it begins to feel more like ritual — as if it needs to be established in order, and grow known and tired for the transition from routine to ritual to be accomplished. Like repeating a certain word until it approaches meaningless sound, playing in the tight gap between the word’s two lives of sound and semantics. Once we have set up shop there, the possibility of rupture. For example: today we brushed teeth before we took a bath, because that, today, was exciting, and we got to sing the ‘brush your teeth’ song. Or: as we move closer to the sound-life of the word and away from the semantic-life, when our backs are turned — and unexpectedly — a new dimension of that semantic-life emerges, a new sense, a new song.

But this is all projection. Even though I am the originator of the routine, it is my son’s routine of which I am the keeper, and as such implicitly connected. Even though, of course, I would not keep that routine if it were not for him. It makes me realize the relative absence of personal ritual in my life. Often when I am desperate I do something like praying. I drink too much coffee. I always sit in the same spot in the medical school lecture hall. I obsessively check my phone. I get stuck on the same song for days and listen to that song and only that song on repeat. I don’t know if these are rituals. They don’t feel like it. They feel more like tics.

What you say about connection with the past, I feel the same way about swimming pools. I feel like I am closer to the child I was when I go to a swimming pool, especially indoor gym-like pools, like at the rec center. And in this way, going to the pool at the rec center becomes an irregular ritual in which I can collapse the present more closely toward the past.

I wonder what other rituals, experiences, sensations you have encountered intentionally or unintentionally that bring the past closer? Or even the present or future?

SED: As far as time is concerned, recently, I have been feeling lost. I don’t know if this is because of technology or because I am closer to forty than twenty and can see my life with more depth of field.

Years ago, working as a caregiver, I handed the phone to a resident with Alzheimer’s. Her daughter was on the other line. The resident was so happy to connect with her daughter. They were extremely close. Then, in the middle of an important conversation, the call got disconnected. The resident started to cry. I told her everything would be okay and that the daughter would call back. It was just a technological issue, nothing personal. Two minutes later, the resident was still crying. She turned and said, “Tell me why I am crying. I don’t know why I am crying.” This only made her cry more. The memory of the disconnected phone call was forgotten but the sad feeling was still there.

This really resonated with me. To translate, in my own life, I am currently healthy, but I know that there are moments when my body is full of emotion and I don’t know why. I just know I am sad or I’m upset or I am anxious. These are not just feelings. These feelings have threads that lead to my past, moments that are buried. I want to follow these threads and dig something up.

A few months ago, I played on an adult soccer league. I haven’t played competitively since I was 18, so the feeling of being on the field was incredibly visceral. Intellectually, I had forgotten some rules and techniques. Yet, my body instinctively knew where to go. It was amazing to observe my body slowly wake up and force my mind to remember the sport. I hadn’t been athletically aggressive for almost two decades! I had to think about what the word aggression means to me now vs. what it meant to me as a teenager. The act of physically playing soccer unearthed complex feelings with threads. This excavation forced me to recognize the passage of time — which was liberating.

In my life, I want to find more of these forgotten stories because I think they are the most interesting ones — the embarrassing ones, the terrible ones. They are the ones with emotional residue that linger in my body seemingly without any cause. In art, I want to record these stories. These are the ones worth telling.

How do you find the stories you want to tell? What is your process like?

RF: I’m not sure if I have a process. Or if I do, I’m not sure whether I understand it enough to be able to describe it. I think, once, I likened it to walking around a ghost town with a burlap sack, allowing myself to be drawn to objects, and placing each of those objects into the sack without thinking or questioning. Then going home, emptying the bag and trying to make sense of the contents. I think this is to say that it is less the story but as you say, the thread, that is important. Intuition decides which threads I will grasp for, and I am totally on board with you, when you tug at those threads you feel it in the body. There are sensations attached, and there is a particular quality to the sensations of threads I most want to follow. I am trying to understand this the way I would understand a dream, which is not so much cognitive as it is in impressions. I sometimes feel them in the shoulders. In the chest. I do not know what these localizations mean. But I can interrogate the sensation and the source of the sensation. I can tug at the threads.

So, following a story becomes following a question, which precipitates another question, which reminds me of the way I felt on a morning when I was younger, which was the same morning that in Berlin a musician was dying, and I had just been listening to her, and now that moment is past, but jagged, and will cut into the next. I am interested in echoes, in patterns, in congruence, in dissonance and music. I want every world to exist simultaneously on the page, for the city I live in to become the ghost town and to oscillate between this vibrancy and nothingness, quickly, so the edges cannot easily be determined.

I was with you for your last year in Colorado and your first year in Los Angeles, and the edge between those two years was so prominent, I think for both of us. I sometimes see my life as divided into segments based on where I lived, who were my friends, you know, the usual things. But these are such obvious ways to read my own life, such arbitrary ‘chapter-breaks’ that seem much more important than they really are. As such I am interested in the different lenses through which I might examine my own life. For example, for a year I kept a journal of what I ate for breakfast each day. Then I tried to keep a journal of every journey I made, but it became ridiculous: when I got up to close the window, or use the bathroom, I started recording these journeys.

So my question is, what are some of the lenses through which you view your life, and how do they arise in your art and writing?

Incremental Light

SED: Since the start of this interview, I have been thinking much about our year together in Hollywood. I remember we only owned like two plates in an effort to avoid doing the dishes. If one dish broke, oh well, no plate for you. Our apartment was practically empty because we had thrown away most of our stuff. It felt nice to be in an empty place — like you can really start over at anytime. It also felt daunting — like lonely, directionless. One night, our Taft friends came over. I think Lauren and Paul were there too, but definitely Fred, Mark, and Allan. We played this game where, one at a time, we pretended to enter the party and interact with the yoga ball like we had just arrived. We all cheered for one another when someone entered the room. We threw the yoga ball at them and watched them hump it or sit on it or whatever. It was so stupid, so playful, and so much fun. Afterwards, we just danced. Anytime I think about how terrible that year was, I just remember that night and how much fun it was to be in a huge city of everything — doing absolutely nothing huge, making absolutely nothing important.

Maybe this speaks to my lens. Sometimes, I feel the societal pressure to create a wide-angled and dramatic life — make sweeping decisions, achieve big rewards, but in reality, my preferences are much more focused on the joy of minutiae. In my writing, the minutiae always feels more euphoric.

I like that you record your travels and food in this way too. Do you know about the artist On Kawara? I just saw his work recently at The Guggenheim and your comment made me think of him. From 1966 to 2013, he made an extensive series of Date Paintings. Each day, he painted the date in the same style — with white lettering/numbering on a monochromatic background of either blue, grey, or red. If he was in another country, he used the language of that country to document. If he did not finish the painting in that day, then the painting was destroyed. It took him about 8 hours to make one painting. Each finished painting is housed in a snug storage box embedded with a newspaper clipping from the day. He did this for like four decades. It sounds really monotonous, but the collective build-up and the narrative that unravels are fascinating.

RF: I remember that night. I have a disposable camera that has photographs from it. I never developed them because we didn’t finish the film and I kept thinking that maybe I would finish the film before I got the pictures developed. And I thought that way for at least 6-7 years with the green disposable camera on my black table in Portland, then my black bookshelf in Denver, and now it is 10 years since that night in Hollywood, where all of the awful “most likely to make it big” people from high schools across America had congregated to make it big, but in our apartment on Taft we were taking turns to act surprised and interact with a yoga ball. I think Johnny and Garrison might have been there too. The pictures will prove it! (If they have not been ruined by a decade of incremental light.) I don’t know what would fit this story better.

But I do remember in Los Angeles, driving your 93 Saab north on the 101 to work in Burbank when I had the night shift on the Tommy Hilfiger show. I had to get there by 6:30 pm so I was driving in the stop-start evening rush hour. The Saab wasn’t doing well. The temperature needle kept slamming into the danger zone whenever the car was idling, which was 95% of the time. I tried to stay as far as possible from the middle lanes because I was convinced that the car was going to give up, and I remember thinking that if I could just get to the next exit then I could get off the highway and let the car cool down, but whenever I would come to an exit the needle dropped back to the OK zone and so I stayed on the highway for the whole cycle to begin again. This is what it was like living in Hollywood: staying as close to the periphery as possible, trying to make it through each excruciating day of reality TV production, until that day – like all the others – ended and a new day began again.

I should be clear that I haven’t recorded my breakfast or my journeys for some time, for years. I don’t know On Kawara but I love this idea. I want this kind of ongoing practice. Do you remember in Red Letter Books in Boulder, showing me a book of Motherwell’s open series sketches? This would have been late 2003. Hundreds of sketches of open polygons. So simple. Often pencil or charcoal. This is how I remember them at least. I want a practice like this. I think perhaps I have written the same book 5 or 6 times now, although with a different title each time, and different clothing. I want to think of each of these books like Motherwell’s different sketches in the same series. Or do I just mean I want what I do to be simple and beautiful. Or that I want to be simple and beautiful myself when all I am able to do is complicate.

Should I find the camera and develop the film? Or should I leave it alone? You get to decide.

SED: Richard, I believe that car was a 1991 Saab 900S Coupe. I bought it used from the man who ran the caregiving facility where I worked. A sixteen-year-old had just sideswiped me, totaling my Ford. So, I collected the insurance money and spent it on that piece of crap Saab. I remember going to pick it up from the garage in Denver and meeting the mechanic: a super sweet guy. Then, I met his dad: an angry drunk. I felt conflicted, like what are these three dudes up to? In my body, at that moment, I knew the car purchase was a bad idea. Something was off about it all. But, I didn’t want to hurt the sweet man’s feelings. I wanted to trust my boss who literally showed me how to care for terminally ill people, not an easy job. It was an admirable job. I wanted all these people to be admirable. I wanted to be optimistic. I wanted something to work out because so much of my life was not working out. On the drive out from Colorado to California, I knew optimism would not save me, it in fact, would be tested. Leaving Las Vegas, the car started leaking green fluid all over my foot. That was the beginning of the end of the beginning. It’s largely a big part of why I prefer public transit now. That is the last car I ever owned in my name.

I do remember our fondness for Motherwell during that time. His work is in LACMA and when I see those shapes, those strokes, I think of you and your writing as well. I think repetition is like an exorcism, you are always in a constant state of cycling a story out of your system. The story is tricky though. It moves and bends and has different faces or different postures. Maybe this is also true of life and the people we fall in love with or into friendships with. I don’t know why we gravitate to the people we do, but there is an intrinsic pull that is indicative of some type of echo, I think.

I recently learned that Prince made Purple Rain when he was like 25. I couldn’t believe that. In my head, he was like 37. On NPR, this biographer was saying something like how Prince wanted to be both Miles Davis and Elvis Presley. In response, a colleague said, you can’t be both — which infuriated Prince. I think the reason why Prince has always been elusive and electric in music is because of this double-wanting. He’s never been placeable, so he’s irreplaceable. I mean, he changed his name to a symbol and then back again.

In my life and work, I’m interested in fictional identity projections as much as the reality. How we balance the two. That said, do you think we should develop the film? What’s more important, the retelling or the seeing?

Incremental Light

RF: I think this is very beautiful — that we are drawn to the same people over and over, and we write the same stories about them over and over, as we think the same thoughts, in the same language, changing so slightly each time, but all the while in possession of the radical freedom to break from all this, to love somebody completely different from anybody we have ever known (as if we choose these things!) but then describe them in language we have never before known, and paint in colors and shapes that we had never seen.

I want to develop the film and run the photos with this conversation. But I want to do this because I already have an image in my mind of what the pictures will look like. They will be overexposed. But there will be recognizable faces. People will be laughing. There will be an abundance of light, often encroaching from the side of the frame, the way I see it, from the left. And because I see this so clearly, this film cannot exist. So I want the contrast between what I want to see, and what is there. I think this is most important to me: not the retelling or the seeing but the relative congruence or dissonance between them, this double-wanting.

I think it is so funny that of all of the things we have done together, and things we have thought about, we end up talking about this night in Hollywood. I am trying to think of everything that surrounds it, and I keep seeing leaning palm trees, neon, the LA subway and public library downtown, the view of the buildings from the roof of Mark and Fred’s building, the golden statue in North Hollywood where we worked at Magnolia and Lankershim. What is strange is that in these memories it is cold. There are leaves fallen from the trees. I know that is not how it was, but it seems impossible for me to remember it otherwise. I wonder if you feel the same way about Colorado that I do about LA? I mean, when you remember being there, are there filters that you know are not real that have become part of those memories? Kind of like a constraint on the memory, or a particular palette from which the memories are constructed?

SED: I think you put into words what I’ve been feeling or confused about. Maybe the point is not to find the reality or to shame the surreality, but to explore the hard juxtaposition of living with both. It’s heartbreaking — this double-wanting. I am interested in this heartbreak not because I am a sad person, but because I can be sad. There is this quote by John Berger that I really like.

He says, “I was, in a way, alone in the world . . . I don’t say that very pathetically. I just took it as a fact of life. But being like that means you listen to others, because you are seeking landmarks to orient yourself in relation to – and, unlike what most people think, storytelling does not begin with inventing, it begins with listening.”

In my work, maybe I am asking — How do we balance these observational recordings of the past? How do we listen to both experience and fantasy in order to find our most authentic selves? Maybe it’s enough to just write into each image, pile them up, and leave them alone. I do think the best art utilizes a certain level of simplicity and unconnected dots.

I think of Colorado as a place where I encountered an intense emotional growth spurt. I worked the graveyard shift at a homeless shelter there. I taught my first writing class there. I took care of terminally ill people there. All of this life experience and more in only three years. When I think about that place, I know I was depressed. Yet, I  also know I was extremely proud of my ability to reach out and keep trying despite. The landscape, in my memory, is a series of trails that allow you to travel underground — there are warm and cold pockets you must bike into before arriving.

RF: In the days it’s taken me to respond, I have driven from New Mexico to Colorado. Whenever I return to Colorado now I feel more like I am returning home. I never felt that way about California or Oregon, probably because I wasn’t there long enough — I always felt like a visitor. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like a visitor in Colorado, I have always been just, you know, here.

Last April when I thought we were moving to New York, I went there by myself to find an apartment and on that trip, alone, realized for several reasons that we would not be moving. On the last day there I stood, hungover in LaGuardia, waiting to get on the plane, never before wanting so much to be back in Colorado. I think I wanted to move to New York because I knew deep down that there was a part of my life that was over, and I needed to mourn that part of my life. And this goes all the way back to your first question — I had become a father six months prior. I could no longer live in a 300 sq ft room and make things work. But I still wanted movement for the sake of movement, to prove that I still could, even though it wasn’t the right thing to do.

I found the camera, in the very first place I looked for it, so I took it to mean that we should see the pictures on it, because we already have part of the wanting, right here as we have described, and I want to place beside that the actuality. We can let the gaps between them be the unconnected dots that you speak of so beautifully. I think that might be the simplest way art can exist: to show you this, to show you that, to allow you to be the bridge or dissonance between.

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Stacy Elaine Dacheux’s work has previously been shown at studio 1.1 in London, featured in the Los Angeles Times, presented at Betalevel, and published in Los Angeles Review of Books. Most recently, she was a special guest on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys hiking with husband Allan McLeod, hosting events with super bud Kate Purdy, and drawing comedy posters for friend Josh Fadem. Anthony Mattero at Foundry Literary + Media is her agent.

Richard Froude has written three books: FABRIC (Horse Less 2011), The Passenger (Skylight 2012), and Tarnished Mirrors: Translations of Charles Baudelaire (Muffled Cry 2004). He is a medical student in Denver, CO, where he continues research into narrative therapies in clinical care. He has taught MFA students at the Naropa Summer Writing Program for the last five years and teaches year-round classes in nonfiction and experimental forms at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He is originally from Bristol, England and has nobody in Colorado to talk to about cricket.