I peel the plaster from the orphaned wall, dragging it from brick like a scab from skin, exhale. There is a moment between the apex of appetite & its satisfaction. If you can hold on for just a moment, just a moment longer, the reward multiplies within you. My father taught me the most valuable thing I know: willpower is the most important aspect of yourself to sharpen. If you can conquer your desires in the moment, their fulfilment blooms tenfold. As the plaster melts on your tongue, as its grains wash past your teeth and slip down your throat, the impact you make on your city waxes ever greater.
There’s an abandoned textile factory just off George Street, encircled on each side by Hutcheon Street, Anne Street, and Maberly Street. There are lingering plans to develop, to dream that space into something beyond decay. You can go online and see concept art that paints the wreck in exposed brick and frosted glass. People, their faces scrubbed, make their way between the buildings. Everything is strung with fairy lights, the lampposts are topped with spherical bulbs. But this future’s never getting here. Time has dilated, stretching even as it speeds up. Every day lasts a week. Every week’s a day long.
In the blighted present, other futures have come to claim the space. I’ve kept track of urban exploration microblogs that posting grainy photos of the broken windows in the upper galleries, the filtering on their images casting its smokestack a pitch black spike piercing the sky. Still other try to snap the lonely interiors in wan evening light, trying to paint something profound about urban rot without the ability to do anything more than indulgently rhapsodize. Graffitists and their pompous ‘street artist’ cousins flood the space. The old shop floors blister with garish murals, tangled vines, an alluring female (always female) figure; her face turned ever-so-slightly to the viewer.
The gates are barred, the walls capped with razorwire, but if you’re clever you can find a way in. Some corners are unfortified, some gates have loose locks. I even heard of someone paying a construction worker for a copy of one of the keys, though I never knew who; or what worker.
I’ve been going to counselling these past few months. I don’t tell her what I do at the factory, and part of me wonders if that’s why it doesn’t work. If I don’t unburden myself fully, is it even possible to be well again? Whole again? But I cannot let anyone know about the work I do. It’s my sacred mission, a holy calling. If it requires the obliteration of my mind and the dissolution of my body, so be it.
That’s what frustrates me about the urbex bloggers and the salvage poets and the guerilla muralists, the baseness of the work; the paucity of their goals; the narrow limits of their sacrifice. They spunk themselves over those walls, indulgently smearing their work over something that’s beautiful itself; that doesn’t need their efforts to be so. That’s why I take the building into myself, metastasizing its glory into my body: writing it into my form. I eat plaster, wallpaper, grits of cement. I swallow gravel like gizzard stones, feel them scrape all the way down to my stomach. I am saving the space, scrap by scrap, from the poseurs and the dilettantes and the property developers.
The counsellor tells me I should express myself. In that moment I want so badly to let her know what I’ve been doing, that the weeks I should’ve spent looking for work I passed chewing and digesting an orphaned urban space. I am desperate to tell her that I’m not actually a loser. And it’s in this moment, when I’m struggling for something to say, that I know what I have to do.
I have to express myself. I’ve taken so much of the building into myself that it stands to reason it’s had a transformative effect. Of all the people in this city, I am more that factory than anyone else. I am the sole record of its true, uncorrupted state. My blood is the dew that condenses on its windowpanes. My bones are its girders. My flesh, brittle and flaky as it is, its plaster. Of all the people who have a right to make their mark on the factory, my claim is greatest. Indeed, any expression I effect is in fact the building expressing itself.
The knife bites into my skin. I’ve chosen my palm, both for ease of labour and to maintain the steady flow of blood. I’ll start on the shop floor, make my way to the upper galleries. I will leave a smeared trail of red over the murals and the windows and the ripped and gnawed plaster. Perhaps some urban exploration enthusiast might find my trail, follow it. I have plenty work with. Perhaps they’ll catch me painting. Perhaps I can show them how.