Report on the state of grey affairs. Tuesday 03 November 2020

Clem Rousset

November 9th, 2020 4:41 min read 1289 words

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I apologise to whoever it may concern for the highly unprofessional behavior I displayed as I abandoned my post mid-watch. I am sorry. But in my defence, I must say that my input may not have been needed to fill you in on the state of grey affairs. I think you have experienced it first-hand, and made sense of it without my input. I thought, maybe foolishly, that with grey remaining resting in it’s steady yet unsettled state—an eerie purring—I could afford to loosen my attention.

I don’t know much about writing as a steady activity or as a job. But the little experience I have taught me that sometimes, you need to sit down and wait for the surface of the pond to settle before you can re-roll your sleeves up and get back to the foraging. With time, things that have been secretly falling in there sink and nestle in the soft mud. Slowly, they will take new shapes, grow a fresh skin of grime, barnacles and slimy algae — I’ve seen it happen to objects dragged out of the river. What you will fish out of the water will have little in common with what it once was. You will be able to guess, however. You will recognise, in the twisted fragments you lay on the grass to dry, glimpses of things that you’ve encountered. In the same way that you can recognise the face of a friend in a stranger’s. Bottom line is, I think both me and the pond needed some alone time.

Atmospheric conditions can influence the amount of things that fall in the pond, as well as their size. The sudden spreading of grey earlier this year definitely shook things up, providing me with plenty of fresh material to inspect. But after a while, it started to feel like I was gathering a lot of the same type of things, which in turn was leading me to make redundant observations. To be fair, maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. Maybe it was laziness. Or maybe it was just the sign that it was time to take a few steps back. I chose to believe it was the latter.

Now, we are asked to stay safe by staying home for the second time. This officially marks the second domestic relocation of all grey operations, this time in a room on the ground floor of my parents’ house, on the side of a hill, West of Lyon, France. With that I decided that I had the duty to go back on the field, to bring back news, anecdotes, blurry pictures and maybe a few samples—unlabeled of course—to analyse if I can. No one asked for it, obviously. That’s almost a prerequisite by now.

I realised recently that, for a while now, I have been comparing the behaviour of the ambient greyness with natural disasters. And, thinking about it, this instinctive comparison may be due to the absence of malevolence that goes alongside the destructive power of these phenomena. You can scream and curse and shake your fists in the face of the storm. You can even pray or plead if you like, knock yourself out. Still, it is without a drop of malice that the many waves will come and crush you.

« It comes and goes » is a turn of phrase I have been using quite a lot lately, mostly as a ready-made answer to « how are things » questions. It comes and goes like waves, either the ones I just mentioned or the ones the media have been invoking for months. Like a tide, one with no rhythm, the kind you can never fully get used to and certainly not the kind you can ever hope to predict. It obeys no cycle. Of course you try to decipher it, and you fool yourself into thinking that you’ve figured the sequence out. But then, the backwash hits without an ounce of cruelty, throwing you off balance, face down into the murky brine that fills your eyes and ears. And you get up, wipe your nose on your sleeve, find a semblance of footing and try again. Because that’s pretty much all you can do I suppose, as the only alternative would be to simply give up, whatever that entails.

There is a sysiphean feeling to this whole scenario. It comes, and then it goes. Then it comes again. The rocking of the horizon doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I’m personally starting to feel a bit seasick.

To this report that I envision as both a synopsis and a summary, I would like to attach a listing of grey things found either in my direct surroundings or encountered since the last update:

-Recovered from memories: The tarmac’s cameo on the road up the hill. The dark sticky stain on the concrete that was once the body of a dead bird. The bottom of ponds. Elevators. Waiting rooms. Mistakes.

-On the desk: Several closed boxes whose contents I ignore. A paper organiser, still not organising anything but used to store two notebooks, an old X-ray of my left foot, an unfinished drawing, at least five old post-it notes, a picture of my grandad, an iPhone charger and two paper samplers. A used battery. A second desk organiser used as a repository for various things such as a miniature plastic funnel, a stick of glue that I know for a fact is almost dry, my wallet, a small stapler shaped like sushi, an old iPad in its case, a folded newspaper article, my Dungeons & Dragons binder, a pink clothespin and two Swiss Army knives.

-Pinned on the wall: A beer bottle label glued on the backside of a credit card receipt. A creased membership card to the Society of Friends of the National History Museum in Paris that expired in 2002. An abstract relief print made from an engraved piece of acrylic I brought back from my desk in White City.

-On the bookshelf: All of my grey books. A collection of bones and teeth from different animals, split between three glass boxes. Two Russian dolls that have always been there and the provenance of which I simply do not know. A cactus, long dead.

And mostly, the whole room, which is probably the reason why it took me so long to be able to properly locate and list the grey things in there. Or to focus on anything grey. It is causing interferences.

It’s a grey room. Quite literally, I picked the colour of the paint used on three of the walls five years ago. The fourth wall was originally white before being covered in geometric wallpaper in order to hide a crack that discretely opened near the ceiling. It is a room I never lived in, filled with books I used to read as a teenager. It was never meant to be a room I would occupy for longer than a month. Hence the sofa bed, grey as well. It’s not a room in which I really belong, in the same way I don’t really belong in the house around it. I grew out of it and it is difficult for me to squeeze back inside. It reminds me a lot of these images of baby cuckoos, too big for the delicate nests of the tiny birds in which they hatched. In this house that isn’t mine, I feel overgrown and clumsy. I haven’t been a child in a while. And I stopped being a daughter years ago.

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