Lynn Ramsey is one of my favourite film directors. In some of her memorable films, there’s usually a shot of one of her main characters with their faces wrapped in a material of sorts, usually a curtain or a plastic bag, like they’re suffocating themselves. In my favourite film of hers, the 2017, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ starting the genius that is Joaquin Phoenix, there’s a similar scene. a scene that consistently pats me on the back, grazes my skin, and transports me to Joe’s pain.
The protagonist, Joe, haunted by both childhood and adult traumas, in a devastating scene, tries to suffocate himself with a plastic bag, the ones they use at the dry cleaners. What on earth is that called?.
Anyway, Joe doesn’t do this to die, but I would argue, to feel; To replicate in the physical form, the full weight of the pain inside his mind and spirit. He suffocates himself until he reaches that point where you gotta choose whether to take another breath, or surrender to the release of death. I think about that scene a lot, about how oddly pain can be one of the most potent indicators of life: pain is the certainty that one is still breathing and feeling. The dead don’t feel. Or do they?
I feel like Joe sometimes, actually, most times, I’ve been Joe. Although, I present to the external world, a very different face, one of continuous contentment and relatively pain-free. I think we all do. Anyway this post isn’t about anything that deep. Or maybe it is that deep. I bring all this up, and precisely pain up, because it is one way to know I was here.
How do you know you were here? For me, it’s pain, the scent of all the cities I’ve smelled, my loved ones, my memories, both the good and ugly. But very little physical evidence I was here exists in this world. My partner and I lead a very minimalist life, and hate the accumulation of stuff, clutter, and attachments to the physical. My closest friends have little attachment to stuff as well. Ikram sleeps on a futon, and works from a carpet while in a meditative sitting position. I don’t know many collectors of stuff.
I’m actually working on a essay on the type of people that live a minimalist life, and what that reveals about some of their deeper, more sensitive layers.
My homeland, Somalia, is forever moving through a state of constant impermanence. Buildings come down, people go under, new bodies are born. Lives lost, memoirs burn to the ground, we re-build, we move on. we switch cities, we carry a million documents, we lose them. we’re on the move. again and again.
All I own in this world is here. A durable suitcase, and inside it, lives my capsule wardrobe, one single invitation from our wedding, a folder of important documents, few of my favourite books, two journals (one for my writing, the other for processing the hours). A camera, a microphone, my favourite pen from Japan, a see through makeup bag, and my bag of essential oils which fuels my body. And that’s it. This is the only physical evidence I was here. and there. When I do doubt if I was ever here, I remember I live in the heart of loved ones, and if that doesn’t work, there’s always the pain.