Mon Jan 3 11, Public Works
Never before was the feeling of waiting for an author to walk from the depths of a crowd to the stage more dense with patience. Not a dog barked; supportive friends sent their wishes into the air via silence and hope (communal breath was a brainwave). The predominant thing was expectation, and nearly (if not) as strong was the sense of trust; there was no desperation in the air, no doubt about what we were doing. What will happen? What will happen? What will happen? It keeps coming. Like the night. The following was heard outside during intermission: “My butt hurt so bad, but I couldn’t move.”
And now of course i will say something else about my own performance because this is where i talk, and because i can’t separate the event from myself or from my recording of the event. Maybe i didn’t say anything because i wanted to print a blank page with my name on it. Part of me believes there could have been nothing more momentous than to have us sitting in a room together, silent, staring at each other and questioning what this thing means after the press we’ve just gotten.
I don’t want to dwell on press, but you can’t avoid it. Without this same machine there would be no Quiet Lightning and we almost certainly wouldn’t know each other. So i really want everyone else to address what this is. This seems to be true: “All you have to do to make the news // is make the news.” We are making it together. What should it be?
There are no answers so much as there are ways forward, beyond what we are doing, beyond; progress depends on enthusiasm, and we depend on the wind for that. But we don’t have to. We are overflowing. Some of us write beautiful poems. Some of us tell stories or play music. And some of us bring it all together. Look at Alan Kaufman and the new Free University of San Francisco. What will that be? Who in the world knows? Nobody. But it’s entirely open. On one hand a movement is less appealing when it’s not organic — when the meaning is established forthright rather than continually manifested and left up to chance.
But there is a place for guidance, and visions must be shared. The death of a reading series or an open mic tradition is the birth of its branding. Anything that takes on too defined a shape inevitably fails to attract new spirit. We want combustion! We want the unexpected! But we want to trust it. We want to understand it. But … that is not so true, is it? We want the spell more than the wisdom. We want the wow over the how.
That’s not true either! I looked around as Gael Alcock unzipped her cello bag to crown the evening with song and although I could not see far into the room I saw 3 or 4 people sprawled out on the floor scribbling into their notebooks. They did not mind the lag in between the last reader and the music. I thought people would be leaving or at least shuffling, and, realizing that the last reader was finished, begin talking. It could have been exit music. But it wasn’t. It was treated with the same contemplation as the readings. Absorbed with the same degree of attention. We watched her plucking and her stringwork. We contemplated technique and composition and tone. We appreciated how vast are our talents and various our modes of expression. And when it was over we clapped and we clapped and we clapped. Everyone. Anyone. We were wild with reflection. We claimed it all.
Yes, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. This precept will be passed down until the end of our culture, sanctified by the searing image of a genius misfit. But you? You fade in. You practice. You care what happens. This is no race, no contest. We are not fighting for a chance to be published. We publish ourselves, and we share and we listen to one another. This is no unconcerned public. This is no world without ears, without heart, without passion. What we are after is a tendency to improve and an attitude for efficiency. We will not sacrifice the comet’s tail.
Sarah mentions that she’s too busy to do a full explication of the evening. She was in the way back, also writing while Gael set up. How many notebooks were being filled? The thing is, you could go on forever. It’s like: how much are you willing to read into this (anything)? If someone studied this particular show as a sacred text s/he could make it out to be anything s/he wanted. There are always signifiers. They fit together in ways Raja and i are not even conscious of. To see them live — even after i’ve read a show 2-3 times in the order it’s to be performed — is always a new experience. It always assumes a meaning it never had before the words were spoken in that order, a spell only activated by the construct of human breath — not the silent gas of consciousness that fills every unshared page and festers like anything else contained to one body. (Open me, we say. Open and share!).
This is the significance of the reading series. The words are already charged; with a receptive audience, they will hit their mark. The spell is arbitrary, but local and organic. Put it inside of you and walk around, talk to the people you see, drink from the same well. There’s another one next month. Is it good? Do you know where to go for the things that you need? What do you need, and why? Reflections, my dear friends. Let us trust that the embracing of reflection will feed a natural, unconscious tendency to update ourselves, our innate proclivity to be of the moment, and combine to form something larger than what we already are. Maybe there will be hints of competition. But may they be only vehicles for propulsion. As Siamak says: “It’s not the game itself.” Participate in the culture, but move toward the feeling in your heart.
You can read the entire show for yourself over here. Below are the videos.
Or, watch it as it was meant to be watched: