Occupational Treatment by Taylor Brady
Some reviews of Taylor Brady’s Microclimates (Krupskaya, 2001) align the writing with Proust’s detailed attention to the minutiae of memory. This is true if one imagines Proust’s brain on quantum mechanics—a scenario in which atoms of lived experience, closely observed, are only partially inhabited as the gaze which calls them back into being simultaneously splices them into the waves and particles of variant sequences, times, and layers of subjectivity. In his newest book, Occupational Treatment, Brady continues this kind of narrative remembrance of things past, potential, present and perishing from the Florida of his childhood.
The book begins with a small play—much in the sparse, absurd style of something by Beckett; including actors such as “Occupant” and “Intruder”, three card “Players” and most notably, the “Radio”. The latter mediates a setting-less foreground through which the other characters interact and also figures as a central character in itself. The rest of the lengthy work (almost 300 pages) is made up of prose blocks set off by headers like “RADIO:” and “TELEVISION:”, long prose sections interspersed with verse fragments, epistolary passages with subtitles/lines of address such as “Dear Surveillance Photo Aged by Speculation”, and prose portions which are narrated as “transmissions” and bracketed by lines that read “...Channel open. Shutdown protocol unsuccessful....” There is also a section that consists of blank rectangles and numbered prose segments; it is a “shot list” and a series of “film stills”. Here a voice says, “Attach the feed. We are aiming at a movie.”
Amid these various modes of narrative and verse, alternately warping into and morphing from each other, “the plot”, as it were, pivots around “clumps of scrub palmetto”, the “scorched earth of redevelopment”, and “slash pine” of an expanse of land that is the “undeveloped scrub woods of Florida”. It is home to what city authorities, those who use “authorized speech,” spin as a “teeming warren of ‘squatters, terrorists, pedophiles and meth cookers”. It is also the gathering place for “the gangs of young men who, having lost their driver’s licenses in a string of DUIs, ride their little brothers’ too-small BMX bikes out under the ozone-yellowed moon for generic cigarettes, homemade crystal meth, and unprovoked assault.” But story, in terms of temporal plot, does not proceed evenly along these lines. The real “plot” exists as strata, like dirt, rocks and dust that are ground down or smoothed over. One works to “lay the plot in the story of botany. Story of waste disposal. Story of zoning. Story of markets. To market.” However, the narrative insists, “I will speak only of the bulldozed camp in terms of the strip mall that will come to stand in its place.”
In this zone of substitution, Brady breaks with Proust and the thrall of recapturing. The highly personalized narration is never trapped in, never allowed to “puke dumb factuality”. It is a story of Brady’s boyhood and, by extension, the land and the time he spent in the woods near his home, but at a cellular level beyond paradigms like personality, land use, gentrification, homelessness, low culture and cultural imperialism. The substitution comes closer to the real violence and falsifications inherent in these terms and in memory itself. This happens because of the visceral quality such substitution lends to the text. More than that of Marcel Proust, Occupational Treatment bears the trace elements of Francois Rabelais in the way that characters—as subjectivities which cling tenuously to scattered ‘I’s’, tags, initials nameless groups like the tent dwellers—become bodies in excess of particularity, aligned with the grotesque transmogrifications of the land.
There is a body-less “barbershop quartet of heads” that function like the chorus in Greek plays as they sing verses such as, “ ‘The body’s full of juices cooking down to jelly, and a jelly’s just a cube with too much heat, like tinted Lucite waiting to become a living room objet.’ ” Often, we meet a kind of main character sleeping in the dumpster amid the clippings of hair behind the beauty college that borders the undeveloped tracts of land. And, in a passage that typifies the experience of bodies in the landscape and the body of the land, there is a detailed account of expectoration.
We walked for what seemed like forever, the converging lines of small-scale irrigation and the vanishing point of our hopes in the distant intuition of the miasmic sea remaining inexhaustible until finally the tempo of value in the municipal relation to the aquifer conquered the tempo of space in our walking as the mid-day water rationing kicked in and the sprinklers went dry, and the uncloaking of infinite circuits of carefully installed desert in the midst of the growing suburb threatened to derail progress altogether until Bottom Dog hit upon the expedient of spitting onto the ground ahead of us in alternation, so that first he and then I would arc a sticky glob some few feet into the future, toward which we would trudge until even with its landing point, the air meanwhile still minimally romantic with the thin dust and ash thrown up by the impact and rendering suitably sublime any reference to a larger scope for our endeavor than that immediate ambit of a step or two, whose terminus having been reached, the spitter would stand glaring intently forward while the other stretched out full length upon the earth as if in worship, slurping up his deeded unit of moisture and thus forestalling collapse through the next repetition of the cycle which now gained a teleology against the illusion of infinity through which it had labored to this point, as we now gauged our linear movement by the approaching finite zero of dehydration, strategically counterbalancing this against the infinite zero of the vanishing point
In Rabelais, there is much revelry, excess, and corruption. He who feasts, defecates. The grotesque body, in such a society, is one that emits and one which is porous to the world around it. So here we have Bottom Dog and his companion, navigating the copiously developed, seemingly lush Floridian landscape. What they are really traversing may be the over-fished, deforested, gentrified mirage of a southern state where the wetlands dry up and the coasts erode.
“Like all them trees was just bad hair due for cutting.” muttered Bottom Dog as I lapped his precious froth, by now mostly stale air and grit, from the small hollow it had made in the dirt, frozen in the realization that the landscape suspended our recognition of its actuality precisely in this function of leveling its forward edge so as to point to what would simply be more of itself.
On one level, this is the story of land use, low income neighborhoods and those trailers and tent cities that are literally paved over, will be paved over. On another, Brady creates a textual simulation that in the thirsty spans of impossibly long sentences, bulldozes itself as it builds. The reader gropes for green spaces and finds turned-up soil, looks for bedrock and finds a jungle of dusty moss. This is Florida where it gets pinched and brittle. Somewhere along these airwaves, my transmission. Like Taylor Brady, I grew up in Florida in a town not too far from his place of birth. Toward the beginning of the book, the narrator of the moment is traveling down “Fowler Avenue” the other F street I always confused with the one that my mother’s hair salon was actually on. I spent most of my early years in the back room there while she worked. I was fascinated with the back parking lot, flanked by huge dumpsters full of matted hair clippings and bordered by the scrub woods where I was told never to go. An incidental angle, sure – and “angle of incidence” maybe, as Brady refers to it.
In Googling the author, I got to Microclimates and then from that to reviews and then from that to one librarian from Brady’s hometown who posted a review on Amazon. He writes that Microclimates is an important work which shows that “Florida is a real place and not just the simulacra one sees on the show Cops.” I agree with this statement just as fully as I concur with an opposing view. Occupational Treatment leaves me with the feeling of possessing a shakier foothold in the place where I was born and a better ear for the white n noise that emits from there. “There are figures curled beneath the speed bumps that could have told us this from the beginning. And with that I shift pronouns. We are hundreds of the previously visible crowding emptiness into your streets. Do not mistake the hiss of dead air for closure. We are all transmissions.”
Amber DiPietra works as a resource specialist at the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She enjoys tracking the body in real time, thinking about disability as formal innovation, taking P.O.D. (Pigeon-of-the-Day) photos, editing/blog curation for Kelsey Street Press, and publishing the blink zine with co-creator Alexis Brayton. You can find out about more of her projects at: www.adipietra.blogspot.com. Her writing also appears in Make, a Chicago literary magazine, Mirage Period(ical), and Tarpaulin Sky.