I am the one I’ve been waiting for

Review by Ariane Vielmetter

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The book begins as a polite, almost rehearsed dialogue between identical twins Zan and Zach Kleyn. Through thirteen letter-pressed pages their well-mannered conversation slowly unravels into an unsettling power struggle. Alternatingly taking and relinquishing control, the twins try to come to terms with their deeply indoctrinated Evangelical upbringing and with Zach’s struggle into self-awareness during graduate art school.
Zach remembers the camcorder that was constantly wielded by their father when they were young, its footage interspersed with biblical re-enactments and scenes from their everyday life. It was a sinister presence, nicknamed “the Ever-Present Eye of God”, and its story provided a carefully choreographed guide for their lives. He and Zan performed for its lens, fulfilling the narrative laid out by their mother and father. This prehistory presages a crisis of epic proportions set into motion by the trials of art school, where accepted truths and casual prejudices are prodded, probed, and disassembled.
When Zan asks Zach if he felt schizophrenic at CalArts, he describes his long commutes from home to school, his failing marriage, his inability to recognize himself any longer in the old camcorder footage, and how he felt as if he were “living two lives,” so much so that he began to tell people he had a twin.
Zan is an invention, the product of a traumatic ideological shift during which Zach had to face himself, rather than God, to answer his most difficult questions. While Zan grows furious for being treated as little more than a coping mechanism, Zach takes charge of the metaphorical (and literal) camcorder, using it to re-envision his childhood narrative and to place a buffer between his former self and the self he wants to become. Creating this elaborate fiction doesn’t come without consequences though—the argument between the two characters reveals that Zach’s constructed identity keeps his friends at arm’s length and drives a permanent wedge between his public and private life.
I grew up in an atheist household, so Zach’s schizophrenic crisis of faith was initially very difficult for me to understand. I asked one friend from a deeply religious family about how she dealt with doubt and uncertainty in her early life. She told me that her youth group leaders encouraged her to write questions to herself and then channel God when writing the answers.
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Another friend remembered writing letters to her “future self” and responding to them through a fictional voice. These kinds of exercises doubtlessly aided Zach in constructing a convincing alter ego. They also have an uncanny similarity to the coping strategies you develop when faced with the questions that professors and fellow students force you to ask yourself in a grad school studio. For Zach, being an artist “doesn’t answer difficult questions but still provides the space for asking them”, and the act of inventing his own double allows for detached self-awareness.
The book itself shifts between recording and fantasizing, never settling on one or the other. Zach’s role as maker comes in and out of focus as you become engaged with the text and with the visual richness of the book. With its unbound pages and delicate silver printing, its combination of meticulous transcription and calculated narrative, it is something between a document and an artwork. Zach uses the same camera that was once the watchful eye of God to record a new fiction, a living mirror image of himself that is both his twin and his opposite. While Zan isn’t able to answer Zach’s existential questions, their dialogue creates a space where he can reconcile his Evangelical upbringing with a more “critically curious” approach to the world that he identifies with being an artist. His book is able to articulate what generates the desire (or even the need) to make art – creating a complex fiction can sometimes be the most useful way to get at a kind of truth, even if it only leads to more questions.
Zach Kleyn, I am the one I’ve been waiting for, (UNIT, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior of I am the one I’ve been waiting for