May 10, 2011
Day 61, Portrait 18 (14 min.)

i feel like the piece started last night when i decided to go to bed to get up early to go to the moma. started having anxiety dreams all night that i’d missed it.got up this morning with singleness of purpose, got to the museum at 9:15, already a cluster of people outside. kept very much to myself, doors opened at 10am and people who had passes/memberships (i had a press pass) rushed to the ticket takers. i saw that guy, paco, who’s gone like twenty times and cried every time, so i figured i was on to a good strategy. 

 

at 10:15 they let us through the ticket gates and we all sort of collected at the bottom of that atrium, before the three steps. security guard came out and said “please don’t run. don’t run. just walk. you are all number one here. if someone has given you a ticket, tear it up.” (apparently people had been giving out rogue number assignments.) i’d been talking to someone by that point so we divided/conquered - she went around the pillar one way, me another. this was just the most extreme instance of sort of trying to game the system, of feeling like it was a challenge. to win, what, literally some time sitting across from someone. 

 

very quickly walked up the stairs, this huge mass of people just speedwalking, and the girl i’d been talking to got ahead of me. paco was between us, and in a moment of crazy blackout fear/anxiety i totally slipped under his outstretched arm to go in front of him. he was like “you are behind me.” i was like “omg i am so sorry i completely lost all sense of appropriateness.”

 

so then we waited for seven hours. i think we stood for about two and then decided to sit down, then stood again, then sat down, etc. patricia - by this point we knew each others’ names and i made friends with this couple, will and andrew, who were behind us. and we sort of started noticing how we were acting, counting people in line, starting to get fritzy, but also feel sort of smug towards the people that were behind us in line. at first we were really watching marina, the other people. then we just started chatting. then we’d go back to focusing on the art. 

 

so finally, 3pm, paco’s in front of me, he goes, and i start getting reaaaaally nervous, like anxious, like i realize there are all these people watching, and then the security guard says that i’m almost up, and paco leaves, and marina sort of adjusts herself and at this point my heart just starts pounding literally faster/harder than it’s ever before. 

 

so i walk up and sit down and completely freak out. i can’t breathe normally - i keep catching on the exhale. like i’m almost laughing? but i’m not. and i’m focusing on her eyes, and it’s kind of too much and the noise is all of a sudden really loud. and i can’t inhale/exhale normally. like i’ve forgotten how to breathe. i’m trying to yoga count - 1 2 3 4 in, 1 2 3 4 out - but i keep getting stuck on this really weird exhale. and i swear i feel like her eyes are kind of holding me, like saying “it’s ok, it’s ok, i’m here.” kind of like in sophomore year i was tripping really hard on ecstasy/pot and a friend of mine just held me there with his eyes. and after about five minutes of this crazy breathing freakout, i finally get it to a good 1234 in 1234 out place. and i start switching between her eyes, looking at her face, and we’re sort of connecting. but then we’re not. and then it’s just eyes. and then it starts getting fuzzy. really bright lights, and then it’s like all the rest of the people there are really loud, and then it’s just silence. at some point i close my eyes for a second, just to chill, and open them back up and like zoom in on her face and it’s bright white. and then i decide to focus between her eyes on the bridge of her nose, and her face takes on these totally different proportions. and then finally i’m just breathing and there and present. and i’d asked one of the guys to go behind her and make a signal at 20 minutes so that i would leave - but also so that i’d be able to stay for more than three minutes w/out freaking out that i was taking too long. because time just stops operating. 

 

at that point i got really selfish. even though i’d made friends with these people in line - and some had come from ithaca, minnesota, brazil, etc - i just wanted to stay longer. and i was like, even if he comes to signal, i’m going to stay. it was this totally weird flip of just wanting to stay in the experience. and then the 1234 counting felt too loud - like i wanted to have something else in my head. so then this internal monologue started of - “you’re not present enough. get present. get present.” and i couldn’t without counting. 

 

and then!

 

i realized i’d been sitting with my back right up against the chair back - and so i moved, just imperceptibly, forward a little bit. straightened up and disconnected my back from the chair. and she straightened up too, moved forward, towards me. and this was the first physical sign of acknowledgement, the first communication that went beyond eyes, and it felt so searingly intimate that i just kind of couldn’t handle it anymore, so i tried to stay there, and did for about three more minutes. and then i closed my eyes and just really really slightly nodded my head down and looked up and her eyes were closed and she was nodding her head down, so i got up and left. 

 

and then i kind of stood against the wall really shaky and kind of sat on the floor and leaned against the wall and was like holy shit. that was bananas. 

 

so that is what i felt. what i saw in her eyes was - at first total warmth. like this amazing feeling of her totally understanding what i was freaking out about and how, and just kind of holding me through it… and then curiosity. and then when i finally got my breathing under control, a sort of relaxation. looking into someone’s eyes for that long, though, i kind of stopped connecting with them as eyes. they just became sort of shapes. and then i’d be jarred back into - wow, i’m looking into another person’s eyes. for a really long time. 

 

and then even as i write this i think, no, that’s just all b/c of expectation and really nothing all that much happened. but it was experientially remarkable. 

 

so yes. i am glad that i woke up early and went. and manufactured excuses to be in new york while she was here. 

 

in other words: it was totally rad. TOTALLY.

 

- Eva Hagberg