Leigh Gallagher is a writer of fiction.

Playing & Reality

Playing & Reality is a collaborative print set by artist Paul Wackers and writer Leigh Gallagher.  Inspired by the 1971 book of the same title, Playing & Reality draws on psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s notions surrounding transitional phenomena and the power of human-object relationships in three fictional, cut-up case studies (Gallagher) and five original images (Wackers).  

Sets contain five double-sided posters sleeved in a hand-stamped folder and can function as unbound pamphlets and/or displayable objects.  

11 x 17, offset printing, signed edition of 100.  

The following excerpt, from the second Case Study, presents Winnicott's original text (small font) interwoven with Gallagher's.



Not long after his mother died, the patient visited the nowhere town where he’d gone to college two or so decades before, with the hopes of rekindling an old romance.  I can see that I am in the territory of Fairbairn’s (1941) concept of ‘object-seeking’ (as opposed to ‘satisfaction-seeking’).  Cecilia had in fact been his only romance, he had confessed to me, in that way that indicated he had long ago taken ownership of this abnormality, and Cecilia, in her singleness, had become ‘the one’ . . . a refusal of substitutes had become a permanent feature in his character.  When I asked him to describe her, he explained the way she spoke, her tongue tripping up on certain words: weird, rural, girlfriend.  It came out that he didn’t remember much of her face.     

He drove across the country in a 1983 Toyota Camry station wagon with a rude penis finger-drawn in the dust on the back window (the culprits: a clutch of boys at a Sinclair station in Gary, Indiana—the patient has a proclivity for specific detail, which often causes our sessions to run over time) and packed to the gills with his ‘stuff.’  The use of a talisman, a closely allied phenomenon.  Among this ‘stuff’: a present for Cecilia, boxes of musty hardcover books (which the patient described as “invaluable” without revealing any titles), a bocce ball hand-carved by an 18th Century Franciscan monk, his mother’s sterling silverware, and many, many other collectible brick-a-bracks.  He went on at length, too, about a collection of tie clips he’d been purchasing at thrift stores and antique malls, with the aim of collecting exactly 1,000 tie clips, at which point he would sell the 1,000 tie clips for $10,000 to—quote—‘one of those Wall Street-types who wears a tie every day.’ 

Organized nonsense is already a defense, just as organized chaos is a denial of chaos.  I didn’t ask how he would find this single deserving customer, nor what exactly he meant by a Wall Street-type or why this ‘type’ would be attracted to such an ambitious and exact number of tie clips (in object-relating, the subject allows certain alterations in the self to take place) nor how he’d determined the ten thousand dollar price or how much money he’d already spent acquiring the tie clips to begin with.  I asked him about the gift to Cecilia.  He gestured with his hands and said, ‘Something of my mother’s,’ in a tone that implied obviously.  (He used this tone often.)  It was something of hers that he’d played with since he was a little boy.  As a little boy, I corrected.  Oh yes, of course, as a little boy, he agreed.  Two separate persons can feel at one, but here at the place that I am examining the baby and the object are one.  I pressed him: an object, a toy?  A figurine?  A ballerina or a porcelain dog?  He swatted away my questions.  ‘No, nothing like that.’  He refused to describe the object, afraid that I would ‘read too much into the symbolism of it.’  (Reference to the original trauma not yet specified but all the time being worked out.)  What had been important for him, on the trip, was that he get this present for the lost Cecilia into Cecilia’s possession; what was important was that Cecilia have for herself something of his mother’s.  But why did he need to unite Cecilia and Mother? I asked.  He had communicated an ebb and flow of movement in him away from and back to dependence.  In his words, the moment Cecilia opened the package would be the moment that she ‘returned.’

Returned to what?  Both returned to him and to the girl she had been.  They’d once gotten caught in a rainstorm and run through the town at night (a Scrabble game had gone late), where they took refuge in a church neither of them had ever noticed before (every object is a found object).  Inside the building’s dark womb, the water wicking off their cheeks, all shimmery in the filtered streetlight . . . he fell in love.  This is the precariousness of magic itself.  But had she fallen in love, too?  I asked.  Well, she had kissed him, hadn’t she?  She had taken him into her bedroom, hadn’t she, and sloughed off her jeans and his trousers a little roughly, hadn’t she?  The breast here is a symbol not of doing but of being.  True, a month later she had begged off his advances, pleading time to ‘discover herself’ and then discovering instead an art history PhD named Jacques D. Metasavage.  The theory of the roots of aggression. (The patient still relives this upset: ‘I am no one, I am nothing,’ and catches his face.)  But that was so long ago and women were prone to regrets, weren’t they?  Didn’t they relish the remnants of possibility—what could have been and what could still, maybe, be?  And so he had gotten it into his head that he should nudge her to reconsider, he would bring her this gift . . . between me-extensions and the not-me.  She would admire his persistence and see his search for her as evidence of true romantic devotion.   

Cecilia still lived in the college town, where she worked as a conservator for the university library’s special collections, which seemed to my patient a perfectly fitting—even fated—occupation.  She spent much time and energy willing herself a penis.  He rang her from a payphone outside the Beer Barn, said his name and then waited through a long and harrowing pause before she recognized who was calling.  He proposed that, as he just happened to be in the neighborhood, they might get a bite to eat.  In truth, he’d already made a dinner reservation at the nicest restaurant in town, architecturally modeled after a Pyrenees castle and with west-facing views of the river.  But when she said that she was busy that night, he suggested they meet earlier—when was good?  Four o’clock?  Three o’clock?  Now?  . . . the world and its details being recognized but only as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation.  She agreed to three o’clock and arrived at four, severely underdressed in jean shorts and one of those baseball playing t-shirts in white and yellow; but look!  It was the same Cecilia whose face had dripped in the church, albeit an only half-remembered face, with less color to it now.  It was the same girl who’d once wanted him.  Before she sat down, he’d already ordered the wine and chosen two lobsters from the tank. 

It was the wrong time to eat dinner at the Chateau Gandy Dancer, he explained to me, and he blamed the wrongness of the whole ‘date’ that followed on an unfortunate misalignment of stars (the thing about playing is always the precarious interplay of personal psychic reality and the experience of control of actual objects.)  The lobsters came out steaming in their red coats, and she looked at him with pained disappointment: I’m a vegetarian, she said.  I always have been.  In this he read an unspoken don’t you remember?, which he took as an encouraging admittance, on her part, that they had indeed, at one time, known each other.  But the hope the moment gave him quickly slid away.  When the waiter came she ordered nothing more than a tomato juice, which she sipped once and then did not touch, thus placing him in a typical neurotic quandary: he didn’t want to seem like a man with no follow-through, but neither did he want to eat alone in her presence (he is a self-described ‘fat man’ who ‘enjoys eating’ and is ‘always hungry’).  The patient said that he now felt sane in a mad environment.  He let several minutes pass before he made a bib of his napkin and set to work on the first of the invertebrates. 

‘What did you talk about at dinner?’  I asked.

She told him about her job, it’s pots of glue and latex gloves, and how, at the end of the month, she’d be moving to Pittsburg for a different conservation job in a different library.  In a gesture he perceived as an act of intimacy, she showed him a small scar on the inside of her wrist where last month she’d cut herself on wine glass that had broke in the dishwater.  He told her that his mother had recently died but did not go into her death’s repercussions.  He developed many curious symptoms, such as a compulsion to lick things and people; he made compulsive throat noises; often he refused to pass a motion and then made a mess.  Instead he said: there had been an inheritance.  Now he was driving around the country with an eye toward maybe moving (almost entirely untrue—he was driving around the country only en-route to Cecilia, and buying tie clips along the way.  I believe the patient will never leave his dead mother’s house, unless he is cured).  He was planning to open an antique shop, he said.  He had many valuable and collectible items (magically introjected breast) many of which were—he corrected—had been—his mother’s. 

All this talk of Mother had conjured Cecilia’s package, sitting there beneath the table in its unassuming paper wrap, and every now and then he tapped it with his foot to make sure it still existed . . . they remained real in themselves but what they stood for was not real.  The mother’s devotion and reliability were unreal.  In our last session he had an epiphany: he saw himself as Cecilia must have seen him then, pitiful for his flaws and doubly pitiful for his unawareness of them: not a person you want to caress and kiss but a child with a deformity, who should be lied to always and forever, but whom someone one day leads, accidentally, to a mirror. 

 Just before loss we can sometimes see the exaggeration of the use of a transitional object as part of denial that there is a threat of its becoming meaningless.  After he paid the bill and Cecilia had returned from the powder room, not exactly smiling but neither looking unhappy, they walked out into the white sun. He looked at her ankles, where they met, without socks, the insides of her shoes.  Exciting implies: liable to make someone’s male element do something.  Well, this was nice, if out of the blue, she said.  Something very childlike was gathering in him—some need that had the potential to devastate if it were not fulfilled.  He didn’t think he could bear to watch her walk back up Kingston Street, toward the very hill he used to live on, at a quarter after five with the sun still out. 

When he suggested they walk along the river, she declined.  The patient is older and the opportunities for death by accident or disease have increased.  But, she offered, here is my address in Pittsburg—my new apartment.  She opened her purse and wrote some numbers and a street name on a slip of paper.  Send me a postcard once the antique store is up and running.  She smiled.  Do you have a girlfriend, Chuck?  And she annunciated perfectly the word girlfriend.

At this point my patient told her that no, he did not; in fact, he hadn’t had a girlfriend, really, since her.  The words came uninvited and came fast.  Did she know that he had loved her then and he still did now?  He didn’t know what love meant, except that he knew he loved her.  It seems I am afraid to get there, as if I fear that once the thesis is stated the purpose of my communication is at an end, because it is so very simple.  He handed her the gift.  She stared at it; the brown paper where his fingers had left marks.  Open it.  It was my mother’s.  She gave a very natural response, not exaggerated: I can’t accept this.  Yes, it’s for you.  No, I can’t.  You must.  I drove all the way here across the country and across twenty years to give it to you.  Thank you.  I think I’ll wait and open it at home.  Goodbye.  Goodbye.  She patted his arm twice and walked away. 

‘I feel as though I came to meet somebody and they didn’t come.’  He got back in his car, among his own smells and stuff.  Hemispheres of sweat beneath his armpits now.  He watched Cecilia as she walked across the parking lot, her hips affecting a left/right, left/right sashay, at ease in the rhythm of her own body.  ‘When I am walking up on that pink cloud, is that my imagination enriching life or is it this thing that you are calling fantasying which happens when I am doing nothing and which makes me feel that I do not exist?’       

Cecilia was gone, and with her the future of Cecilia , and with that the past of Cecilia   . . . becoming destroyed because real, becoming real because destroyed.  He watched her detour left at the edge of the parking lot, onto a small playground empty of children, where she set the package down on the merry-go-round, gave it a gentle spin, and walked away.  It was as if his arm had been amputated, then set down on a merry-go-round and given a gentle spin.  It is to be noted that the phenomena that I am describing have no climax.  His mother was watching, and she was thinking, ‘Of course.’ 

Annihilation means ‘no hope.’  He rolled down his window and started up the engine, strings and static on the radio.  The traffic on Kingston parted for him easily, empathetically, and as he drove into the current, the scrap of paper with Cecilia ’s address levitated on the center console, hovered there for a moment, and then sailed out the window and away.