Mystery Sequence

By Conor Baird

Several romantic pursuits have labelled me “mysterious”. As such recurring things do, a pattern slowly reveals itself, like a tired grubby machine that’s forming its own history—a sequence of other people telling me what I am, and me not really knowing what to do with this, except—

Because this assertion confronts me. I could take it nicely, and attempt to put up the front of doing so, but under the surface I perhaps err more on the side of taking it badly. This assertion of a certain kind of mystery is delivered with a polite know-it-all-ness, one that I cannot refuse or object. It is said nicely. It is intended as well-meaning. It is said in what they think to be generously, because they know me so well. It is said in a way to suggest: this label is a gift to you, a chance to hold a mirror. A chance to see something new about yourself. A chance to realise your relationships. It is said because they feel hard done by. And it is said so I can do more work. It is said in a prevalently physical way with their shoulders leaning in to me, not domineeringly, but with their silhouette expanding, blocking the light behind them as though the sun has just slowly disappeared, their eyes just above the level of mine, eyes and lips both slightly puckered, a voice calmly pointing downwards into me, just as a clairvoyant might show off her skills. They say it: “I think you’re… [looking for the word] mysterious.”

And I find myself apologising for this uncontrollable mysteriousness. Accepting immediately my fate. Because deep down I know it’s true, but—it’s not something I care to claim or disclose. I am mysterious. There are parts of me that I believe to be irritable, dark and ugly, and I quite rightly keep them hidden. Isn’t everyone a little bit mysterious? Isn’t there a parallel history where being mysterious was actually once attractive? Glamorous? A sign of power?

The current zeitgeist that plays into this sequence and feeds the machine is the revived and overinflated trend of astrology obsession, that would link my mysteriousness to my innate Scorpio-ness—a form of evidence that in fact explains nothing. Apparently, I am an obvious Scorpio. Newly-met people always guess Scorpio first. A quick google will tell you of five other signs that are also mysterious. In any case, it’s often alienating to dismiss widespread ancient beliefs, and even perceived as a little ignorant (“at least as a guiding practice it’s useful” they say).

Because what else can you say to someone politely offering an otherwise inoffensive opinion?

I have no autonomy in how I am perceived.

I don’t (almost) apologise because of some uncertainty in my character, but instead (actually) apologise because that’s what I think lovers want to hear. Because they want to change this part of me, to open me up, unfold me like a book, render me readable, understandable. Digestible. They want to be the special one that cracks the code. Shifts the stars. Unlocks a drawer, finds a switch and flips it. Mystery—off. Good boy.

Another trend, one that might work in my favour this time, is uplifting personality memes. Ones with illustrated cutesy cartoon figures saying “It’s okay to be mysterious. It’s what makes you special. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” And they might be right. But it’s easier to save, send and repost a meme than it is to practice its message. How easy is it to actually stop someone “telling you otherwise”? I don’t think I’ve got there. I’m not bold enough. And let me tell you, it’s even easier to just say sorry. Sorry I’m not what you cracked me up to be.

And in some stupid way apologies are my ammunition. Like how an inspirational social justice warrior might propose: “Apologies are a form of resistance”. Great. That only validates my poor excuses of denial because a sorry is easier said than doing anything else. Sorry is a useless bullet, firing from a toy gun. Sorry is skin-deep, but preventative. Defence as defence. In Scotland we say sorry when we haven’t even bumped into you yet. A pre-emptive sorry. A sorry for what might be about to happen, or what you’re trying to avoid. A shield. A bubble. These sorry’s lose their worth in my swirling polite blood. But funnily enough I like it that way, and I wouldn’t change it, because there’s nothing wrong with a sorry. Manners cost nothing. But, have you ever said sorry for being sorry because people are telling you to stop saying sorry all the time? That is a silly sorry sequence.

In writing this text I make the usual faux pas of a confessional artist and contact my ex-partner for some clarity, only adding further confusion and strain. Him and my current partner are both surprised and retract their assertions, claiming in fact to have never made them at all. They opt for pleasantries instead – “quiet, emotional, unique”. And I’m left with scraps of paranoia. Am I a brat?

Is it actually just being quiet that constitutes mystery? I’ve always been “one of the quiet ones.” And that really is okay. This was once observed with admiration by a non-romantic acquaintance—in 2012 when I lived in The Netherlands I was at a friend’s place and her partner, who I had just met that weekend, said to her; “Conor doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s always something important.” I deciphered through the spoken tone of this statement that “important” equalled sincerity or passion with intent. This off-the-cuff comment from someone I never met again strengthened me, for the almost 10 years that have followed, spoken before I even had any inkling of a boyfriend who would use the word “mysterious.” Useful. Maybe it was the Dutch way, direct and upfront, to see this a positive attribute, not a mystery. No apologies needed. It was real and genuine, said by a person through an actual meeting, not over-intellectualised positing or topical journalism. And through its being said in reference to me, behind my back, and retold as a proper gift, it was made it all the more heartfelt. It reminds me, whenever I’m quiet, that no space needs to be taken up. It reminds me that mystery is in the eyes, and bother, of someone else.

Mystery Sequence was performed live at the She’s a bit much publication launch in September 2021 (Market Gallery, Glasgow). The text was written with the support of the Creative Scotland Visual Art & Craft Maker Award. For a recording of Mystery Sequence please visit the She’s a bit much Launch events page.

Conor Baird is an artist, born, raised and based in Glasgow. Recently his use of text has slid from voice, improvisation and script into more formalised approaches to writing and publishing thanks to inaction from lockdown. This writing is in line with much of his overarching practice which seeks to unpack and make mess of personal narratives around intimacy, shame, belonging and violence - in order to clarify, accept and settle. His time-based work makes use of subversive dramaturgies across performance, actionism, theatre, expanded cinema and film. Conor’s training stems from the former Sculpture undergraduate at Gray’s School of Art (2013), the recent Theatre & Performance Practices Master’s at University of Glasgow (2019) and continuous performance workshopping. Conor also participated in the alternative postgraduate education programme Syllabus III (2018), and was a Committee Member at Market Gallery, Glasgow (2015-17). He has shown work in galleries, festivals, theatres, cinemas, bars, apartments, factories, windows, and sewers.