Tuesday, January 24, 2012

performance piece #2

the original idea for tonight’s presentation splintered at the last minute under the combined weight of not knowing whether the relevant newsprint, faceprint, blueprint or fingerprint would be synthesized properly and rocketed out into the appropriate echelons of the hungry ghost bardo as set forth in Tungman’s first lecture series after barricading himself inside an abandoned grade school lunchroom with 25 species of poisonous vipers


 re-directed in pill or liquid form via the already well-worn grooves of the local unconscious collective toward immersion with the wax and oil crayon pantheon of discarded but still highly revered native Illinois deities.  Who knows?  Who is the cardboard cutout really attempting to fool?  Can cardboard fool itself?  Would cardboard gain anything by that?   Karl Mistinal, our former bandmate, organ-grinder and feral animal advocate, suggested the inverse, rewired and antiquated along the same lines as a paper-based diary just for as long as it takes to-quote- “tease out that which is catalogued from whatever existed before being sent down the conveyor belt at the Macon County re-use and recycling center- instead of putting elements together these machines prefer to pull them apart- imagine a simple household blender…” unquote.  re-create the sound of a blender; or, if they’d prefer, combine some fragments from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd with corresponding fragments from Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnamable.  Remember- language itself is a technology, Karl often reminded us, subject to the same kind and degree of system-wide failures.  if given a chance it too slithers out into the pasture unnoticed, and people with white coats and iphones keep trying to coax it back into the lab.  this piece of paper here in my hand, not yet layered over with markings, it is just a blank piece of paper, I assure you, blowing around in a parking lot, in the same spirit of non-distance, non-speaking, non-silence, non-listening.  Poe and Beckett once went canoeing together down the Sangamon River and when their boat collided with (disruption) both texts are deceptively simple and both revolve around the theme of disguised or covert insanity.  Unstable people desperately trying to pass themselves off as stable, with varying degrees (usually on the low end) of success. 

We are first introduced to Poe’s narrator sitting alone by a window in a posh London coffeshop around evening rush-hour smoking a cigar, reading newspapers, and gazing about at the people, objects, and events going on all around him.  He refers to these different entities as, quote, “proud and delightful standard bearers of nothingness” and the subtle implication is, I think, that he has recently and only by the slimmest of pretences been granted release from the local psychiatric facility.  (A very temporary release, we later come to find out.)  The narrator frankly admits to being caffeine-blitzed out of his mind, yet he sits for hours, virtually motionless, utterly amazed at the fact of his newly won freedom and the diverse and teeming life-forms in constant movement around him, particularly as represented by the pedestrian traffic, which is just beginning to pick up again as people head home or head out into the evening.

(musical interlude)  

He proceeds to describe in graphic detail the various categories he can still somehow identify: bankers, managers, technocrats, waiters, doctors, sign painters, prostitutes, pharmacists, shopkeepers, chimney sweeps, parlimentarians, street preachers, fruit vendors, carpenters, tailors, buskers, cobblers, landlords, brewers, mechanics, teachers, gardeners, beggars, pickpockets, etc.  This list goes on for several pages and qualifies, I think, as legitimate sociological research.  He begins mumbling something to himself about the tattoo and dance parlor down the street where as a lad of 12 he first engaged in quote “sexual congress” and as a result the people sitting around him slowly and nervously begin moving to other locations when all of a sudden he is convulsed out of his revelry by a tattered and unassuming older gentleman whom he guesses to be around eighty or eighty five years of age strolling by.  He gasps several times, clutches his skull for a moment, gnashes his teeth, and presses in on his eyeballs until the phosphenes have wrapped his self-image inside a tight purple cocoon.  He makes a loud inarticulate noise, springs up from his easy chair but requires several moments to regain a semblance of composure and balance.  He then grabs his coat, hat, and cane and heads out to secretly follow and spy on the elderly gentleman.
(musical interlude)

The night air, the fog, the rain, and the mysterious man of the crowd begin to unsettle further our narrator’s already unsettled nervous condition, and disjointed splinters of an underlying and unrelated confession begin to appear in the cracks of his primary narrative as he staggers thru the cold London streets.  I’ve tentatively pieced together the first installment as follows:            

(the quotes themselves are in quotes and most likely refer back to his time in the hospital.  others have interpreted this section as a case of mistaken identity.)

“Well, apparently I was married for several years in my twenties and then, surprise surprise surprise, that marriage came to unappetizing conclusion.  Magnolia accused me of not being the person that I presented to her in the beginning.  She accused me of putting on a false front, of dissembling, and even worse: of perhaps not even being aware of it myself.  As she put it several years later-  quote -“it’s bad enough that you were lying to me- but how will you ever recover from the infinitely deeper and more elaborate lies told to yourself?” 

It was clear from our initial meeting at a butterfly exhibition at Earl’s Court, which also occurred during a time when neither of us were at liberty to formally pursue one another, that there was a highly charged reciprocal magnetism and the distinct sense that should we ever find the opportunity for a private encounter the potential for clarification as to what we were each actually hiding from could be overwhelming to the extent that joint-insanity, shared insanity, mutual reinforcing insanity, was a very real and terrifyingly possible outcome. 

Maybe best not to meet at all.  Maybe best to maintain a safe distance- but we were in our twenties, at the time, and had not yet acquired any sense of restraint or proportion.  The amounts of coffee I was drinking in those years was almost its own form of insanity, and I think Maggie was afraid of being lured to the “Dark Side”, as she called it, because the beverage I brewed down in my workshop each evening was of such a dense and ominous black that she imagined demons and swamp creatures were gestating inside it.

After that brief initial meeting we kept finding covert and subtle ways to interact with, influence, seduce, and, I think, ultimately, manipulate one another.  These were of course the days before Facebook and I think that if-it-had-been-at-our-disposal many of our later problems would not have developed along the lines that they did.  They would have developed along different lines, most assuredly, but ones that might have at least afforded us a little more real satisfaction.  A ravenous, maddening hunger for obscure and occasionally frivolous details that only increased with the few tidbits we were able to glean. What is frivolity, anyway?  What is real substance, anyway?  I can very easily imagine us prowling around on this mythical Facebook deep into the night, deploying all manner of strategic codes and pseudo-identities in an attempt to plumb each other’s real and also secret intentions.  What’s so unreal about secrets, anyway?  What’s so unsecret about reality anyway?  Grasping, craving, clutching, clinging, begging, demanding, requiring- all the typical joys of a nineteenth century love affair.  

In any case, Maggie and I eventually did free ourselves from those pathetic first marriages, arranged a string of encounters, found ourselves relatively compatible, deliberately failed to mention certain key episodes from our pasts, moved in together, got married, and even went into business together.  She was a private detective at the time, investigating large pharmaceutical companies allegedly manipulating and hiring people with serious health and/or financial problems to deliberately expose themselves to certain water-borne toxins and then to ingest various experimental medicines still under development.  To maintain scientific integrity, most of these test subjects were required to crouch down and drink water directly from natural sources, and the more dangerous or polluted the source the higher the compensation if the person actually lived long enough to collect it.  There was a class action suit being prepared, and Maggie, along with several others, was doing intense undercover surveillance.  I was often utilized as a decoy, dressed up in disguises, given false names and papers, and sent out to pose as an aimless drifter living alongside the Thames River.  Because of her increased access, we both started using certain medicines for recreational purposes which resulted in all the typical spirals in responsibility, honesty, communication, and hygiene. 

Undoubtedly we would have shared this process of degradation with our friends and family on Facebook but because there was no such medium at the time we just confided all the sordid details to our own personal paper based diaries.  Should these documents or anything like them ever be found after our deaths they are to be shredded or burned unexamined.  (as if this would not happen anyway!)   

The marriage ended, surprise surprise, and was followed by several years of painful destitution and character-building embarrassments.   The aimless wandering down by the river was now no longer a paid simulation but the daily condition of my actual life.  Life was imitating art; the truth was imitating disguises.  There must have been something resembling an episode of dissociative fugue because I’ve looked everywhere, there must be someone, the humiliation must be attributed to somebody, maybe just a voice, in the background, I have no objection to that, what it wants I want also, I am it, I’m in it, I’ve explained this to Maggie literally thousands of times, even if it pulls or withers away around midnight, if it wants to go silent, and maybe even does for a second, a good few seconds, then stops, or rather, pauses, or at least pretending to pause, beginnings, middles, ends, trembling, another word might be wandering, or gazing out into emptiness, gazing for hours at a blank piece of paper, thick and opaque, like the Dark Side, slowly being drained of its content, its chemicals, heavy, inert, like a unconscious body being dragged over pavement, or sitting propped up near a window like on that first night homeless in London, in a Dunkin Donuts awash in all of the so-called Picadilly palare.  It was the evening rush hour and there were all the usual cross-currents of pedestrian traffic. 

(musical interlude)

We were good friends, Magnolia, I refuse to tell any more lies about this, and people could tell I was sincere, I think, by the fact that we were almost constantly wildcrafting.  It turns out that a good 85% of the public doesn’t know what this term actually means.  So, as a former private investigator, someone accustomed to cobwebs and camouflage, I have taken it upon myself to carefully define and explain it to any and all interested parties.  My lifestyle down by the river affords me the extra time in my schedule to do this.  My name used to be Karl and I used to take care of the animals.  Did you know that, Magnolia?  With the proper incentives they can usually be trained to do anything.   We took the various medicines.  We ingested the various indigenous chemicals.  We crouched down and drank the water directly from natural sources.  Test group A, Test Group B, Test Group C, Test Group D-  after morning prayer, morning congress, the morning meal and paper, we hurriedly dressed and headed off into the wilderness- always hurriedly dressing and hurriedly heading off into the wilderness-  to drink more of the natural waters and contract more of the modern diseases. We were constantly wildcrafting.  We simply didn’t know how to stop!  Maybe we were addicted, in denial, and for our own good and the good of our loved ones should no longer be allowed to spend time alone out in nature.  Maybe we need the overseeing presence of other people to keep us from giving into temptation. 

Over the years, the asylum had allowed too many people to roam free, unsupervised, and the sense of public suspicion was building.  Any language user out there might be in an advanced stage of critical meltdown and there wouldn’t necessarily be any visible or obvious signs.  People can be calculating sometimes, did you know that, Magnolia?  They can tell you, word for word, exactly what you wanted and/or expected to hear.  Sometimes there is a very obvious ulterior motive, but usually it’s just for the mere amusement of seeing you eagerly nod along to a fiction.  As test subjects we felt that this was our cultural and political moment, our opportunity to finally stand up from our crouched position down by the river and be counted, fairly, transparently, before disseminating our foraged reading, writing, and arithmetic technologies thruout the same digital interface that would not originally allow us a voice.  The days of us scrawling our field notes in simple spiral-bound paper notebooks were definitively over.  Old home movies.  Old photographs.  Old voices eaten up inside cassette tape recorders

By this point Poe’s narrator has started quietly weeping and can no longer conceal his hovering presence.  The old man turns around and waits.  After a 25 second pause, they begin speaking from a distance of 5 or 6 feet.

O<<<   Sir- excuse me- don’t mean to pry, but I have to ask you- have you been drinking the rain?
N<<<   uh..yes- ...how did you know?   I only drink the bona fide natural waters.
O<<<   be that as it may- sir- why are you following me?
 N<<<   I recognize you from somewhere.
O<<<   but I’m brand new here.  I just arrived several hours ago.  I’ve never been in this city before.
N<<<   and I’ve been here all my life.
O<<<   so you might be hallucinating…are you currently under the influence of any mind-altering drugs?
N<<<   well…let’s see...I did have a little coffee…but that usually…I don’t think so…maybe there was something wrong with the rain…
O<<<   oh- almost certainly.  were you by chance included in that first wave of drug testing?
N<<<   yes.
O<<<   well then, that pretty much answers all the rest of my questions.  good day to you sir- enjoy the rest of your time here in London.
N<<<   but hold on, please- wait a second.  what should I do with the money they gave me?
O<<<    what money, simple fellow?
N<<<    the money I was given for participating in the drug trials and other experiments.
O<<<    save it for your old age, my good fellow.  It will be upon you much sooner than you probably realize.
N<<<    but what if I am hallucinating again, as you mentioned?  I might spend it foolishly or just give it away to some stranger.
O<<<    nothing wrong with that, my dear sir.  go ahead and be someone’s benefactor.  from the looks of you it appears that you don’t know the true value of what money buys anyway!  just keep a steady intake of your so-called “natural waters” and it will all work out fine.  the dillemnas you are posing here will simply take care of themselves.  modern science, simple fellow. 
N<<<    huh… you’re probably right…thanks a lot, sir…by the way...I’m really sorry for stalking you.
O<<<    no big deal, young chap. it happens.  spend more time on the internet.
N<<<    huh- I thought you were going to say spend more time out in nature.
O<<<    oh no- in your case it appears that there’s been entirely too much time in nature already.  Forget nature for awhile.  Think about getting your own blog up and running.  my guess is that you have amassed a lot of really interesting ideas that you can’t wait to share with the world and that the world can’t wait to read.  another symbiotic relationship just waiting for the divine breath of life.
N<<<    but I don’t even have a computer
O<<<    well, spend your money on that then.
N<<<    wow- you’re really able to put the pieces together- no wonder I sensed something about you, sir-… I used to write about creative problem solving in my journal but the people around me at the coffeehouse started moving away one by one.  A wide margin of solitude interposed /////////////////itself between me and my fellow caffeine enthusiasts, and it was only thru deep confrontation and dialog that
O<<<    glad to help, simple fellow, but look, I really do need to be going.
N<<<    sure- I understand.
O<<<    again, do enjoy the rest of your stay here in London.
N<<<    but sir- I live here- didn’t I say that?  I’ve never even been out of the city.
O<<<    oh right- you did say that.  Forgive me. In that case, do enjoy the rest of your life here in London.
N<<<    thanks…I will do that, sir.  I want to get back into the practice of wildcrafting.
O<<<    wildcrafting?  what in heaven’s name are you talking about?
N<<<   My name used to be Karl, and despite what you may have heard on the radio, I used to take care of the animals, and I think I did a pretty good job.  I can’t help it if the Ingalls ethic is no/////////////////////// longer relevant here- I was raised to respect people’s feelings and anticipate their innermo
O<<<    wait- forget the animals for a second- didn’t I tell you to give nature a rest?  Just tell me what you mean by “wildcrafting” and then let me be on my way!
N<<<    well, sir, with all due respect, it isn’t something that I’m willing to talk about with just anyone.
O<<<    my lord, crazy fellow-  do I look like just anyone?   Just another “man of the crowd” as you seem so intent on describing me?  Pull yourself together, sir!  you won’t get another chance like this anytime soon, I dare say.  Catch your breath- there there, that’s right.  Don’t be afraid to pause and observe several seconds of silence. [25 second pause]  OK, lad, gather your thoughts together now in a semi-coherent fashion and explain to me in a few simple sentences about this thing “wildcrafting” you speak of.
N<<<    well, sir, it’s one of those compound words that pretty much defines itself.
O<<<    OK then… ‘crafts pertaining to the wild.’  Is that it? ‘crafts and their relationship to the wild or wilderness’?
N<<<    yeah, pretty much…and not necessarily deep and uncharted wilderness, either.
O<<<    is there even any of that still in existence?
N<<<    in the most primordial sense, I don’t think so.
O<<<    sir- speak plainly.
N<<<    ok then- yes- there is still a little bit left in existence.
O<<<    but you’ve never even been out of London.
N<<<    I learned about it online.
O<<<    Huffpo, presumably?
N<<<    no-just a panel discussion I stumbled across in a google maps chat room.
O<<<    streamed live?
N<<<    no- prerecorded- I think the event happened in 2008.
O<<<    well, a lot’s changed since then, simple fellow.
N<<<    yeah, you’re probably right..hey, there’s a wildcrafting collective that meets several times a month here in London…you could come and see for yourself. 
O<<<    But I can only eat certain foods, at certain times, in certain combinations, and in certain environments.
N<<<    no problem- it’s the same with all of us- we usually meet on Thursday evenings around six at the gazebo on the east lagoon in Hyde Park.
O<<<    Splendid.  Perhaps I’ll join you sometime.  But I really do have to be going now.
  N<<<   of course.  lovely meeting you.
  O<<<   same you you, sir. 
  N<<<   good-bye
   O<<<   good-bye

There was no need to keep following him.  I presumed I would never see him again.  He disappeared back into the crowd.  I sat down on a bench and clutched my skull with both hands, replaying the last several hours, retracing my attempts to fit back into human society.  So be it, I know that well, there will only ever be partial silence, full of murmurs, distant cries, the usual fragments of silence, spent listening, spent waiting, waiting for the voice, the cries cease, I don’t know, I’ve forgotten, it doesn’t matter, I never knew in the first place, I know that well, no, not even that, not even a fraction of certainty, why deny it, never ceased, not even the fiction of certainty,  telling old tales, old stories, to myself, hardly hearing them, somebody else must have heard them, somebody else must have been watching me, somebody else must have been interested, somebody else must have known my trajectory before I even set forth…  

(first performed in April 2011 with Kathleen Baird in Chicago, IL at the home of Kerianne Kronke)