In the early mornings of the first months of life, my daughter started singing. It would still be dark, before the light changes. She would begin by making little sounds, to which I would sing something and then she would sing along with me. The rhythms of her vocalizations were so beautiful, so cute, so fun; I recorded them to send to her dad who was working in Europe. Reveling in a language all her own, her eyes sparkling and playful, she was so happy using her new voice. She would laugh and, at times, make very high-pitched exclamations. Sometimes the singing turned to whimpers and cries.
Considering the BOOKSHELVES project with the synchronicities of my life provided a moment to reflect on the beginning of vocalization: I began with my daughter’s voice. And then, thinking about an author’s voice, about the books that have changed my own thinking over the years, I wondered about the process of each of us learning to speak, learning to read, and this new voice my daughter is developing. I looked at the recordings of our morning songs, audio waves made up of vertical lines of varying height, and I saw the books as sound waves. Each book a line, the voice of one author, combined with all the other lines on the shelf to create a wave. And each author a baby, crying and cooing, then finding words for thoughts, then writing a book, these books. The image was clear in my mind, but I needed the help of two more hands to move everything into formation. Interruptions for nursing and holding, playing and crying left some shelves in waves, others in-progress, and the remaining titles piled on the floor.
I have always had an affinity for meaning gleaned accidentally when looking the other way. Instead of creating a bibliography of useful tips for the new parent, or ruminations on the history of language formation, I chose to display books that came to me synchronistically. A friend had recommended Patty Smith’s M Train half a year before I’d gotten pregnant, but it was not until visiting my dad and seeing the book on his end table that I picked it up to read. And I loved it. From the lists of books that influenced her, to the coffee Smith drinks and the strange olive oil snack that accompanies her coffee, to the rarely mentioned and deeply present love for her husband, the sincerity and attentiveness to the things she loves permeated the pages like a night wind.
And while on a road trip north, not reading all the books I thought I would, no health manuals and What to Expect…, I sat in a bookstore simply observing the contents and the customers. My mind was strangely blank during a lot of my pregnancy, it was so different from what I had expected. I thought I would have many thoughts, but instead I just was. I was pregnant. Getting up to leave, I saw Little Labors, by Rivka Galchen, on the ‘new books’ table. I picked it up and saw that she was using the book form to explore questions that were just under the surface of my mind. That still are. Questions about becoming a mother and being an artist, about creating intense work, about becoming even more. Countering the assumption that having a baby may lead to simple writing, she weaves literary histories and personal observations into a slim, seemingly fragmented volume whose total narrative feels greater than its parts. Funny how pieces of thoughts can suggest ways of being. Like a baby, singing.
And then during my residency at 3307, more books came to me. After many years my family home in Ojai is being sold, and the baby books with which I learned to read, that were read to me, have been returned: Goodnight Moon, The Frog and The Toad, and The Flower Spirits who each wear a botanical dress beginning with a letter from the alphabet, to name a few. Opening the box I was filled with a familiar joy, that glowing feeling I had had as a child while reading for the first time. And remembering the sounds of my parents’ voices, I realized they must have sensed my inner worlds developing as we read, as I imagine is happening now with my daughter. I paired these beloved childhood books with Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline by Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg, not only because of the connection to this familial biblio-legacy, but also because I am amazed by how my perception and marking of time itself has shifted, and continues to shift, as a mother. Three trimesters, nine months, twelve to fourteen nursing times per day. Something always organizes our experience, and we create systems of notation to understand this, to understand growth and to recognize patterns. To make meaning.
But before this, there is sound. And then all at once, in a moment of harmony, we hear how sound can turn to language in the beginning of song.
Tamarind Rossetti is an artist and writer from Ojai, CA who currently resides on Salt Spring Island, BC. Recent solo and group exhibitions include Sommaire, FRAC Poitou-Charentes, Angoulême, FR; A Guest House for Travellers, Little House Gallery, Venice, CA; and A Mess and A Pleasure, ForYourArt, Los Angeles, CA. She holds an MFA in Public Practice from Otis College of Art and Design and a BA in Art Practice and English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, summa cum laude. Rossetti’s diverse material practice is concerned with processing time and relationships through notions of place, home and memory. Within each of her projects is an exploration of voice, both sonically and textually.