Welcome to the latest weekly installment of our blogs written by poets about what they have been doing since the lockdown began. We’re calling it From the Front Lines: with the public being urged to stay at home to hinder the progress of Covid-19, it often feels as if our front door is the front line. Today we welcome Shetland-based artist and writer Amy Gear, who writes about ‘touch club’.
My dog Lenny is pawing my arm as I write this. He is demanding and honest in his attention seeking. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is a nice relaxing stroke on his belly, and on his neck. He wants touch. He just slumped down next to me. He wants more. Every time I stop, he starts demanding. Furry salty paws from sea play, clumsily poke, push and prod me until I do what he wants.
Imagine in a few years, everyone acted like Lenny. Everyone you wish you were with, everyone pawing each other, desperate for strokes, for touch, and affection. Your mam paws your face while the postman paws your leg. It feels both unbearable and unbelievable, but it defiantly feels necessary. Like a smear test. Our touch levels are down like an anaemic’s iron levels, who has really heavy periods and doesn’t eat any greens with orange juice, or take any supplements, or eat steak. We need touch to live, to stay awake, and to function.
Imagine in a few years. When a three second hug is over, we instantly crave it again, so low are our human touch levels from years of deprivation, that we instinctively, and clumsily paw our friends, neighbours or even mere acquaintances until we get MORE. We crave it, we need it. We go to our doctors and pretend we have sore bellies so that the doctors will perform an external examination, our eyes roll to the backs of our heads as we drink up the touch on our loose belly skin, the unbearable but unbelievable touch of a stranger. Groups are set up in village halls called Touch Club to try and boost our body’s dwindled recourses. I like going to Touch Club. It’s thrilling. Each week it’s different but last week I held hands with a mechanic called Joe who lives down the road (rough big hands) on one side, and an old lady who smells nice like fabric softener called Nancy (soft, thin skin hands, boney) on the other side. The group coordinator walks slowly around the outside of the circle of villagers holding hands, tracing her hands down each arm, rubbing down the Vs our arms make together, her fingers tumble in a landslide from the top of my arm, to the bottom of the valley where Joe’s and my fingers are knotted together. When the coordinator’s handslide reaches our hands, weeds overgrown on lumpy stones, she takes a deep breath, dust settling after the tumble, before moving to the next pair of arms – Nancy and I. Since meeting Nancy, I am grateful for the depth and thickness of my skin, it’s never something I’ve noticed before, but Patricia’s is noticeably thin and transparent, I worry about her vitamin D levels. We can hear the coordinators voice circle around us slowly as under her breath she whispers ‘Vee’ ‘Vee’ ‘Vee’. I don’t think she realises she has started to say it aloud.
We stick out our arms walking in busy streets, everybody forming capital Ts with their bodies so that maximum touch can be had – the government insist. Our arms get strong from all the T walking, and more women start wearing sleeveless T-shirts because they are proud of their new muscular arms.
Hold your finger on the letter I on your keyboard, but don’t push down, just rest your finger on it. I too am holding a finger on the letter I on my keyboard. This is the only touch club we can have right now.
In isolation, I touch soap, my dog’s lead, my partner’s hair and the scissors, the phone where I hear my Granny’s voice, my laptop where I do applications for projects and money and to learn new things (budgeting?), soap, my pencils and pastels to draw pictures, my yoga mat, floss (it takes 50 days to form a habit, now’s a good time to start flossing and/or yoga), pens to write poems, soap, I touch my head to my pillow, my increasingly dermatitis ridden fingers touch-type so I can watch cooking programmes on Youtube. I touch butter, lemons, pasta and salt. Lemons sting.
Now touch your right middle finger on the ‘O’ on your keyboard and your right pointer finger on the ‘K’. I’m doing the same. OK. Close your eyes and we can think about each other.
Now middle left finger to X. Now both at the same time, touch your finger down on it, but don’t press it, just gently rest your finger, as if we are about too.
Amy Gear is an artist who writes. She makes installations with spoken elements, drawings, paintings sculptures, poems and stories. She is based in Shetland, where she is a co-director, a tutor and an artist at Gaada, Shetland’s visual art workshop. Her latest solo exhibition Ferning Foaming Bloom took place in February in Aberdeen’s Look Again Project Space. Amy’s spoken word installation HONDS REACH UP was part of the Travelling Gallery’s group show The Shapes of Water which has now been postponed until its safe to go out in the world again.
You can find more of Amy’s work on her website.
Find her on Twitter here.