Tuesday, January 24, 2012

performance piece #1

I ran into a childhood friend of mine several years ago on the Pink Line;  I think some of you probably know him?  Doug Barr?  from St. Louis?  Well, anyways, we hadn’t seen each other for over a decade.  We conversed for 30 minutes, it seemed to go pretty well, and then about a month later a letter arrives in the mail, a physical handwritten letter on paper from him.  After saying how nice it was to see me and all that, he mentioned that during our exchange he had made a delicate observation that he wanted to impart to me now.  The operative line was, quote: “almost everything you said sounded like it had been memorized from a script.”  It wasn’t necessarily a criticism, he hastened to add, just a simple observation that he wondered if anyone else had ever brought to my attention.  Amazingly enough, no one had yet.  After the initial sting of his observation, I realized that he was absolutely correct, and that as a result I could go in one of several different directions.  The first and most likely:  alter nothing.  Just keep communicating like a hollow-eyed and presumably unemployed actor.  Second: make the conscious attempt to push my day to day speech-acts into a more spontaneous or unhinged arena-  wildness, randomness, whimsical, indiscriminate, disordered, erratic-  insofar as these things are still even possible for one such as myself.  Or third:  look for and seize opportunities, like this one, in which I can literally read out loud from a script- out in the open, out in public, in a very obvious way, so that the stilted manner in which I guess I speak naturally might finally be regarded as somewhat appropriate, relevant, justified.  In essence, this would be one of my major life problems solved, or at least steadily moving in the direction of solved.  I would like to thank Doug Barr, who is in attendance this evening, for his insight and honesty.  This performance is dedicated to him.

going to begin with a few spliced fragments from Gertrude Stein and Federico Garcia Lorca-

act so that there is no use in a centre.  a wide action is not a desirable width.  a preparation is given to the ones slowly preparing.  they do not eat who mention silver and sweet.  there was an occupation.  there were rumors of an immediate vacancy.   )))))))))))))  what is the current that makes this machinery?  what makes it crackle?  which instrument  presents with a  wavering pattern of frost? an estrangement?  a whole heap of razors and compasses?-  what is this current?  who drained it?  what is the north wind?  what is it?     ))))))))))))))  remains of a clay pot, a sunken armchair, a windmilll, an echo, an old man covered over with ivy, kale and mushrooms, fragile twigs in an emptied garden where the insects are rustling, from the cave come long sobs, his eyes follow the faltering voice,  walk on unsilvered mirrors,  under a  cradle of incense, marco’s shadow silently glides over the anonymous woodcutter, snow, spikenards, tea, salt flats, a cut reed, gestures, blue eyes, preludes, cordoba,  clarinets woven in and thru desolate, deamplified  balconies  .)))))))))))))  there was no rental, no seizure, no black boots, no privacy.  spoon it up, stuff it in, any way you can manage.  signals come in from tattered blankets waved back and forth over the strawberries.

our friend Karl Mistinal, whom I think some of you maybe remember, was supposed to be up here with us this evening but last week he had a fairly serious sledding accident in his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.  He is still essentially intact as a human being or subject position but his mobility has certainly been compromised for awhile!  Karl, old buddy- you’ve got to learn to be a little more careful!  I am happy to report that he is back home this evening in his tiny apartment in Uptown wishing us and everyone else here continued success.  And despite what you may have heard,  our other friend Gayle Emery was also supposed to be up here, wedged in with us, but three nights ago the daughter of her childhood friend accidently slammed a car door on her fingers.  This performance may very well be turning into a bona fide karmic disaster.  It wouldn’t be the first one, by any means- just another to add to the list.  I have made several attempts over the years, as I’m sure you have also, to trace certain inter-subjectified events back to their or my or our original pre-cellular matrix.  I could have used simple word “error”- that was my original preference- but that word might imply something uncomfortably reminiscent of a humiliating and painful expulsion from certain mythological luxury gardens which were never quite as tidy as certain theorists would have us believe.  All entirely unstable and virtually unidentifiable indices, some of which result in a person’s body and sled smashed to bits and dispersed unevenly over a snowdrift already littered with body parts.  Or fingers rendered inoperable as a result of somebody’s outburst of enthusiasm upon winning 15 successive rounds of the game paper, scissors, and rock.  The very game, ironically enough, in which finger movements play such an integral role.

In a steady, professional tone of voice, the bus driver announces over the intercom at the intersection of western and fullerton that he’s going to just start driving around aimlessly for a couple of hours and that anyone is welcome to stay on board and come along for the ride!  approximately 9 of the bus’s 15 passengers do so.  the random person sitting next to you starts to talk about her recent trip to the corner market, she calls it.  not just any random corner market either, but an establishment officially registered and advertised as the corner market.  it’s the definite article, and because of it she refuses to shop anywhere else in the neighborhood: dry goods, granola, hardware, linens, patio furniture, cutlery, art supplies, batteries, lotto, personal hygiene.  the bus is indeed snaking thru random alleys and streets but also public parks, golf courses, vacant lots, and the lakefront.  after so much claustrophobia from the cities main arteries, the driver understandably wants to take this opportunity for a little fresh air.

(musical interlude)  

he drives right thru the grass, thru the soccer and volleyball fields,  he enters a cemetery, and points out the section in which he would like to be buried, but  it all depends on whether or not he can work full time up thru his eightieth year.  stewards of the earth, unite!  unite and live encrypted by actuarial sciences!   

the sense of symmetry we had envisioned for tonight’s semi-improvisation was disturbed by Karl’s sledding accident and then in a strange sense restored by Gayle’s car door slamming accident.  In this very limited context, the two wrongs have seemingly added up to the proverbial right. Before the mayhem, Karl and I were to assume the two speaking voices in conversation with Kathleen and Gayle’s two musical voices. as it turns out,  Kathleen and I have been left to wander along on our own- without interlocutors,  spiraling around, interrogating the medium, for a certain period of time, much more than either of us really know what to do with.     Sometimes overlapping, sometimes not overlapping.  Different people mean or want different things when they invoke the term “overlapping.”  Their experiences in this realm prove to be so incongruent that the term eventually comes to signify whatever the speaker wants it to signify.  Overlapping on command, overlapping around every corner, no escape from overlapping, ever, overlapping the only reliable process.   

It might be worthwhile to note parenthetically that Karl has been an organist for about 17 years at various churches around the Chicago metropolitan area.  He is not and has never been a believer in anything resembling the traditional sense, but he sometimes appreciates the formal structure of certain traditional hymns.  I would like to reveal some those titles but he expressly forbid me to do so.  As someone who pays little or no attention to the language component of his professional art form, he was looking forward to tonight for the opportunity to reverse that particular pattern of emphasis.    According to Karl, this spectral Minnesotan who was injured while sledding and whose absence tonight seems to be haunting everything that comes out of my mouth, the lyrics to most hymns are simply sick and incomprehensible.  Mistakenly seen as commentary on this or that aspect of religious devotion, when put under the microscope they turn out to be hallucinations of the most radical kind.   He said that on the sledding hill in Duluth he was reaching speeds of almost 55 miles per hour.  He allowed his body to be twisted into unnatural shapes. The sledding hill itself was twisted into unnatural shapes. The very terrain had it in for him, his hubris atop an old-fashioned radio flyer.  Apparently the first thing he told the doctor in the emergency room was:  “Sir, I allowed myself to run empty.”  And when he refused to say what he meant by that or in fact to say anything else for the rest of his time in the hospital,  the doctor took this to mean that there might have also been some psychological damage.  I’m afraid he may have been right, but thankfully it’s still too early to tell.

our poets have some  interesting things to say about psychological damage, and I’m going to run thru this section as quickly as I possibly can, because it is not pleasant, not pleasant at all; not reassuring, not reassuring at all:  control field, control circuit, control transfer authority, control channel extension, control facility signal, fiber ribbon, fiber tensile, fiber bundle and cladding, display order, display element, display surface gradient relay, magnetic trailer, network dialing, scattering cross-section, filament, reference transmission, level point, maximum usabilty threshold, orthogonal antenna mount, omni-directional density, light emitting cathode monster, polarential tele-wave distribution, relative coordinate data code, pattern recognition technology, path loss, interactive channel increment circuiting, signal to noise power ratio, interruptions reduced for a sick and hollow transparency, variable end user processes, reversible pulse code dispersions-     wow- sorry about all of that.  not very pleasant ideas. not very pleasant at all.  not very reassuring ideas.  not reassuring at all.

as children we all intiated elaborate role-playing games and as these games grew more sophisticated we started utilizing what is often called invisibility powder.  this is, as I’m sure you all know, a common, over the counter bottle or packet of powder that a person sprinkles over his or her body during episodes of massive confusion.  it renders both the person and the person’s clothes and effects completely invisible.  this way the confusion is able to fade or wither away without the pressure of on-lookers noticing things which would most likely fuel the fire.  not to mention the decreased likelihood of people coming up to initiate conversation with an invisible person, a very literally not-all-there kind of person.  the woman I met on the bus during our ride thru the fresh air locations mentioned that the corner market carried a full line of invisible powders.

(musical interlude)

“Calm, calm, what do you want from me?  what could you possibly want from me?”

yes, ask questions, the calm likes that. 

“OK, Calm, why do I have confidence only in you?  why do I feel only connected to you?   when I wake up in the morning and don’t feel like eating my brussel sprouts ice-cream, why and how and to what degree do you attempt to numb my resistance?  I go to the fruit stand and come back with petrified wood.  the local street urchins taunt me. they pelt me with skittles.  it’s a candy I actually like but they’re not giving it to me in a sincere or neighborly fashion.  I tried to teach them some basic whittling skills but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of honest enthusiasm.  some artificial enthusiasm, yes,  but that’s not necessarily what I was trying to conjure.  is it wrong of me to have expectations like that? 

yes, ask questions, the calm likes that.

“ok, calm, what is this role I am playing?  what is in fact expected of me?  wasn’t my job as a groundskeeper the best fit for all parties involved?  will I really take up residence in a forest of coloring books from the 70’s?  and if I do, will I still be capable of contributing to polite conversation? (disruption) what if my neighbors break down the door and insist that I tend to their vegetable patch?  they seem to think that I have skills in every matter pertaining to what used to be called the great outdoors or wilderness education and maintenance, but they’re mistaken, calm.  deeply and most likely sadly mistaken.  my pet lion wanted to kill me so I let it loose in the flood plain.  if the game wardens ever get their hands on my so-called “work history” they will realize that my credentials were all based on the slimmest of pretenses.  “pretty thin air” I’ve sometimes heard, when people didn’t think I was listening.  Or, now that it’s winter, “pretty thin ice.”  in the warmer months I’m sure I’ll hear the variation “pretty slim pickin’s.” 

yes, ask questions, the calm likes that.  the calm is really into your questions.

“calm, what is happening here?  and by here I suppose I mean everywhere, during all times, and inclusive of all human beings alive, dead, and yet to be born.  how will all the so-called blank spaces ever be sufficiently filled?  I know you say we don’t need to fill them but haven’t we already been down that road?  the bus driver took your advice and look what happened to his employment security!  his burial plot will probably end up going to somebody else.  now they pelt me with gummi bears and the plastic coins they get from the laundromat.    calm, would it be ok if I just went back to my room and laid down? 

would that be unfair to the others?  

If I was in prison would anyone be willing to guard me for such an unbelievably low hourly wage?  why this lack of basic confidence, which in the morning will have probably shaded over into the most insufferable arrogance?  it’s hard to blame those youngsters for targeting me with their dollar store candy.  sweet little tykes, for the most part.  

I thought about leaving town but you always interfered in some way, usually via dissociative fugue or some form of hypnosis while riding around on the subway, for all intents and purposes riding around without a care in the world.   these last 6 words are often underlined or put in italics.  let me repeat the statement one more time and then I’ll let the matter rest for awhile.  but the last 6 words are really important- try and visualize the italics.  for all intents and purposes, riding around on buses and subways, staring blankly out the window, apparently without a care in the world.

(first performed in December 2010 with Kathleen Baird at the Hideout in Chicago, IL)