Emily O’Donnell




Fugue 1+2


A fugue is a harmony of many voices, in music it speaks in a symphony. In psychology it speaks in discord, it speaks in silence, the forgetting of voices that are beloved. The forgetting of our own voice. The musical fugue speaks to us with eloquence; the fugue state is the emptiness that surrounds the sound.


Our conversation is a fugue, two voices speaking around the subject at hand. How often can we dip into the secret source of strife, the sound of discord. The secrets that lie beneath our words, the source of our shame.



Fugue 3


When I speak to my mother, for the first time in months, we speak of my current predicament, a decision to be made. To reach out to her is a sign of my own weakness, my inability to make an important decision on my own. I feel some embarrassment, but I do not feel shame or humiliation. I do feel weak but she reminds me that there is strength in admitting your weakness.


My mother and I speak for over an hour and beneath our conversation there are subtexts, undercurrents. Secrets we both keep.  The siblings that are absent from our discussion (‘How is your sister? What do you mean she’s moving to Korea, she didn’t tell me.’ ) Or the new husband and family that are not a part of my life (‘I’ve been married three times,’ she reminds me as if I cannot hear the murmuring voices of the children in the background, my youngest siblings who are like strangers to me.)


In his fugues on Humiliation Koestenbaum asks us to “Think of the silent adjustments we all make, the enormously complicated adjustments, merely to have a simple conversation with another human being.” These silent adjustments are often the biggest decisions we make in our lives. All so we can better speak to others around us. To speak to my mother, I had to make the silent adjustment that is unfamiliar to me now, to become a daughter again, a child who considers herself an adult. This could be a humiliating experience if you let it be, or if you crave it to be. But often it just happens, unconsciously. I need help and I need someone to tell me what to do, no one else has the authority to help me make a decision like my mother, and so often I leave her out of them. In the past, she has certainly humiliated me as I have done to her, but was it ever intentional? Do we have to cut each other down in order to know how to speak to each other?


Fugue 4



A fugue is a harmony of two or more voices. I hear my voice overlaid by my mother’s across the airwaves, the length of one state beneath us. I hear my sister’s voices echo in my own when I speak, the vocal inflections and words. I can hear my father’s voice in my irony. I can hear the voice of my lover in my head, the conversations and discordant fugues that led me to this one.


Koestenbaum says “We’re all in the business of cleansing ourselves of shame.” Two nights ago, my lover asked me a difficult question. A decision to be made. I didn’t know how to answer so I stood up to wash the dishes, busy my hands. He came over and embraced me, as I stood with my hands steaming in hot water. He thrust his own hands under mine and told me that when we feel guilty, we feel the need to wash ourselves. He asked me if I was feeling guilty. I said no, and then went to take a shower.


Our voices are not always in harmony and maybe this is why we love to sing. If I could sing my words then maybe they would strike the chord of the fugue state within another. Where we can forget who we are for a brief time, live as a complete stranger. Shift our identity into something strange and new, where we do not remember our problems, our families, our mothers and the undercurrents of our conversations. In a fugue state, we are blank; the voices of the song are unrecognizable.

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