by Tyler Rai
a rupture or disturbance to the regulation of a living body
a disruption in perceived trajectory
desecration of living systems
amelie died of leukemia one year ago on new years eve. the rupture that slowly cut its way into the fabric of my body came at different variations of tempo; sometimes short, sharp pangs, or prolonged slow encounters as i watched her dying, fighting, living, fleeting body.
in the year since she left this earth, i have been making a dance piece that holds and contains my process of grieving. it began when i noticed how my hands could not be still — they yearned to be busy, as if remembering a recent past where we mourned together; where people would need to be fed, and tasks tended to. cooking, mending, washing, ripping became my instincts, somatically recalled into my muscles and tendons, to help move through the changing of circumstances. i cooked, i wrote letters, but what ultimately held the weightiest parts of this trauma was repeatedly slicing strips of emergency blanket i was making into a costume. i used the razor blade to focus, cutting through the material with precision; it became a meditative kind of processing. it was a way to keep my thoughts in motion, a way to usher the movement of grief through my breathing body. i did this for months before assembling all the pieces onto a denim jacket i found at a thrift store.
i called it my grief jacket. this jacket became an integral part of my performance process which has been focused on mourning in the context of climate change and ecological loss. the jacket held the entirety of my process. the slow steady commitment to keep going, the melt-downs, the crying, the release and catharsis, the continuing, the dancing. it shines. making this jacket taught me lessons, about being visible through my vulnerability, about learning how to bear witness to the evolution of my relationship to the trauma of losing a friend to cancer.
in the movement practices i gave myself to, shaking, skipping, spinning, and slapping became parts of my healing process. in my experience, healing was not the absence of trauma or the absence of pain, but rather the integration of my felt experiences of pain, sorrow, and rage into forms of resilience, and a deep reverence for my present experience. moving my body in these ways, led me to those transformations, and led me to the language to describe them.
i think what resonates most with me as an image for trauma, is to see it as an opening. thinking of how i felt cut open by amelie’s death, that it brought me to my knees, is somehow the place where so much of my spirit was found. left bare, without hiding. the challenge of my humanity being how to see this trauma also as a gift. i feel that trauma can lead us to our darkest monsters, and also to our greatest courage. i do not want to romanticize trauma. i want to contribute to a world where kindness and empathy allow all living beings to experience a fullness of their life’s potential. what i do want to note, is how the artfulness we form through surviving trauma, feeds into a world that will always be living and dying simultaneously.
i keep dancing that dance, and i keep making new costumes as my grief continues to transform. in some moments, i still do not have words for the feelings. now is a time when i become acquainted more with scarring than with the initial wound. i learn about the cycles of re-incision that occur, as a year passes and i come together again with memories of her. i become acquainted with healing as a process, of re-opening and healing over. i let my body set the pace.
how do we give ourselves over to the lessons of our traumas in ways that shine light on their gifts? how do we create contexts for our personal traumas to open permission and connection within our communities? how do we live artfully with lifetimes of pain behind us, within us, in front of us?
dancing. silences. beauty and busy hands.
Tyler Rai is a dancer and writer based in Western Massachusetts. Through performance and movement improvisation, her research questions how we embody kinship and relational empathy with the other/more-than-human-world. She is currently developing a body of research focused on grief and reverence for the glacial bodies of this earth. She is the instigator of the temporal collective, Hungry Mothers, and a member of ERRATICS, a curatorial project focused on empathy and geologic forces. Rai received her B.A. from Bennington College and is a Tamalpa Life/Art Practitioner.