One of the most consistent visual synonyms reflective of the way one navigates the internet that I have held in my mind for a very long time is that of a small forest creature burrowing into a hole in the earth. It’s the image of a small warm body moving around a complex nexus of tunnels and holes in which it can hide and gorge on material that feels like the closest approximation of clicking around forums, following links, posting to Close Friends, snacking on eye candy.
Social media is exhausting. What’s new? For matters pertaining to my sanity, I’ve been limiting my time on Instagram—save for checking DMs and occasionally posting on my private account for posterity and to feel something, whether that be shame for having posted at all or conciliatory joy when my trusted friends double tap hearts on my little square photos or the pure simplicity and narcissism of reveling in the words I’ve typed and images I’ve shared on an interface, on a screen (there is something satisfying about it!)—I’ve been slow to respond to friends’ texts, and I have relegated much of my screen time to lurking on Reddit and in Discord servers. The image of myself as a burrowing creature persists, but now it feels like I am in a slow motion sequence of burrowing out and away from it all to get above ground. I dunno, I don’t mean to extricate or distinguish the lived experience of IRL from URL because that’s not what I’m getting at; I guess I’m bad at digging—and maybe stretching this metaphor—because here I am in the burrow of your inbox with this newsletter, right?
In any case, it comes at an appropriate time that I’ve been remembering this piece I made to be shown at a local gallery’s four year anniversary exhibit in 2019. The piece is called “Cave Studies” as it was following the show’s theme and art prompt: Hollow Earth.
Unfortunately, I completed the piece down to the wire and didn’t have time to scan it or photograph it properly before handing it over for installation. Another L that must be accounted for is that I had a falling out with the person who purchased it and thereby have no way to request the piece for archival photographing purposes. Where there is a will, there is a way, sure, in theory I have my options, but I can’t imagine that this person still owns it and have resigned to the possibility that the piece’s fate and final resting place lies in a landfill, which feels appropriate in a way. When I think of the piece as a physical object, I picture it suspended in time: the frame leans against garbage bins in an alley, the glass is cracked, and the graphite has been smudged beyond perceptibility. So forlorn lol.
This shitty phone pic that I posted on Instagram at the time is all I have to prove to you that it once existed. Admittedly, I am critical of and embarrassed by the composition, but that’s not the part that matters to me.
Recently I found the script I wrote for the piece in the drafts folder in my email. Weeks later I dug through my flat file and managed to scrounge some post-its and other scraps detailing the development of the piece. The brainstorming stage of a project is often the most fun for me. It feels like emptying a junk drawer of its contents and playing with and arranging the disparate objects to create new connections and configurations—except the junk drawer is my brain and the accumulated bric-a-brac of films, images, articles, books, etc. that I’ve engaged with become the objects I mash together with my thoughts and feelings to synthesize into new forms.
Throwing myself, or burrowing, into projects has worked as a diversion in the past because the end result often feels like I am “contributing”, “building a body of work”, or the dreaded “being productive”, but it’s becoming increasingly less sustainable as a coping mechanism. It’s a surface-level escape from deeper-rooted issues. Duh.
In short, I have been going through a rough patch and reading something I wrote 3 years ago felt like an experience out of space and time. At once it was as though I were reading a letter my past self wrote to my present self, a letter a far-distant future self wrote my present self, and a text whose author I was unable to recognize as myself at all. This isn’t a cry for help or pity, I know what I have to do to improve my quality of life and mental wellbeing and I have a support system, I just need to hold myself more accountable, stop making excuses, stop hiding underground.
In the meantime, I wanted to share this because I wanted to honor this thought digest of a piece and also because I found it to be a small, personal beacon of hope during a difficult time.
Maybe you’ll get something out of it too.
It begins with overstimulation and manifests as avoidance and reluctance to confront mental barriers and creative blocks you can't yet scale. Frequency and noise compel you to retreat beneath the surface to regroup, recalibrate—the self as underground cave.
In the early 1960s, French cave explorer Michel Siffre conducted a study that required him to live in isolation in a subterranean cave and, in doing so, he inadvertently made discoveries about human chronobiology. Time is unorganized in the dark and, without sunlight, the human body is tested by new levels of spatiotemporal perception. The interiority opens you up to both madness and the fantastic. I wonder, though, is it a return to or an escape from by burrowing and implanting ourselves in the absence of light and noise?
Decades later, when asked in an interview what it is that attracts and scares us about the underground, Siffre responded, "In the Middle Ages, caves were the place demons lived. But at the same time, caves are a place of hope. We go to them to find minerals and treasures, and it's one of the last places where it is still possible to have adventures and make new discoveries."
Do we fall back into ourselves to remember or to forget?
In the 19th century, American Army officer John Cleves Symmes Jr. became a major proponent of the Hollow Earth theory. He posited that Earth contained entrance points to an inner world at its magnetic poles.
If the Earth is a shell and its interior is hollow, then when we crack its enamel and breach its core, I expect to obtain a soft, slug-like comfort and safety; a cochlear space in which to incubate thoughts, ideas, dreams. Earth's subterranean darkness must move at the speed of the mind seeking equilibrium.
Alternatively, it's difficult not to view the human as contaminant and descent into the self-as-cave as a risk of figurative and literal blindness. Rattling around in the Earth's bowels like a tapeworm absorbing its darkness as creative nutrient in turn exposes yourself to the threat of nostalgia, the nonlinear collapse and overlap of past, present, desire, and unknowable future.
At some point you must resurface, but sometimes it feels good and necessary to be like a mollusk ensconced in a shell. Being down in the depths sheds light on how arbitrary everything is. Ultimately, it's just me, the dirt, my thoughts, my pulse outside of time, cutting through it, hiding in it, and hoping I'll emerge polished under the pressure of the Earth.
I hope everyone is finding the balance and peace that they need. May we all emerge polished under the pressure of the earth.
Thanks for reading. <3