Open Letter to Maggie Carson Romano

an informal review of solo exhibit “Well” at Glass Box Gallery, January 2016 | Written by MKNZ


I wish I could tell you exactly how many times I’ve thought about this show; how many times I’ve thought about the body healing faster than the soul; how deceptive that is.

I was going to write a ‘review’ of your show. I tried to write a review of your show, as that is what Sierra asked me to do. But I fear I’ve had too many conversations with you to remain objective.

I had a dream shortly after you left for California. I was eye level with a black, lapping ocean. So dark that all I could see was the moon reflecting off the peaks of the ripple. When I raised my hands out of the water they were covered in a film of blood. I touched my body all over looking for the seam and found the smallest opening in my stomach, leaking slowly and steadily, but I felt no pain. I looked up at the sky and found it framed in a circle; I was in the bottom of a well, the liquid from my body bringing the water level slowly closer to the surface.*  Briefly, I feared I would run dry before I reached the top. But I could feel my heart beating from the pulse behind my ears and it was strong and steady.

When I came to your show on opening night, the room was full and quiet. Those of us who discovered the handouts of your accompanying text were crying, looking for others who had just finished reading it, and then crying with them.

As I told you in the car that day, to me, the show was your letter. All of your pieces were its girth; its lofty, solemn evidence. Most especially, the shattered ceramic fins. How did it feel to hold that shape in your hands? To run your finger across its edge? I wonder if they make your blood run cold or if their cracks brings you some solace. There is a sameness to many of the textures in your show: the sliced pear, the tear in your cheek, the cracked fins – there is a comfort to their shared fragility. Everything can be bruised, splintered, melted down, pulled apart. And isn’t this what we are most drawn to? Doesn’t a tree just seem like a tree until its branch snaps and dangles helplessly? Isn’t it in those moments that we bestow it with humanity?

I am not surprised by your survival; people survive; women survive. But I am struck by the poetry you were able to find when sifting through the ephemera  between You Today and you when you took the photo of the unmade bed. When viewing the evidence of your accident and recovery in immediate succession, there is a notion of self-fulfilled prophecy. What better to mark the end of a former life than the impression of two warm bodies in a disheveled bed? And what better tells of survival than a photo of a perfectly carved pear, which was clearly taken during the act of eating it?

You said at one point that you are always “creating evidence of happiness in case something bad happens”, which, in my experience, never serves to bring us back to that happiness once fate has moved us away from it. More often, I think, this evidence lets us mourn the incredibly delicate specificity of a happiness we no longer have access to. But we are doing something else when we keep this evidence, which is to allow for the possibility of heartbreaking coincidence; of the most moving allegories. It is one thing to tell of the tree you saw growing impossibly out of the middle of the ocean while in a morphine haze on your way to the airport, but to see a photo of it next to a photo of the stitches in your face… the likeness of the sideways trunk to the seam of your cheek creates a mythology worthy of some surrender.

I hope this letter finds you well. I hope it finds you the way your letter found me. I hope that it reminds you, as you reminded me:

If you find yourself unimaginably wounded, at some point I promise you’ll start to feel better.

Love, McKenzie

*(later, I would re-read your letter from the show to discover the line “deep down somewhere you cracked and everything leaked out to somewhere else” and wonder if that line had situated itself deep inside of me)

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