Notes from the summer solstice

I'm sitting on the porch of the Prattsville Art Center looking out through a maple tree at a bright day in Prattsville, New York. Today is the last day, the departure day, of a residency organized by the School of Making Thinking which explored 'performing playwriting.' It's been a whirlwind and a delight to gather with these 12 other artists/makers/thinkers and delve into our work while living together at the Prattsville Art Center, an awesome DIY art space in this one-block-long town.

The residency began with a 24-hour play festival, which is a form that many of you might be familiar with as I've been organizing 24-hour play festivals in Chicago and southern OR and Portland for the past 10 years. (As a sidenote, I was introduced to that form by Cory Tamler as a high schooler in Pittsburgh, and Cory, who's now a badass playwright/theatre-maker/PhD student in NYC, was one of the facilitators for this residency.) From there, the structure was looser and people held workshops to get feedback on their work as well as morning devising sessions. Of course lots of learning comes from the in-between conversations in the kitchen, over coffee, at dinner, etc. At one dinner, we all spoke about our art practices as our mothers explaining what our children (us) were up to. Totally absurd delight to meet each other that way. 

I worked on a few projects that have been in various stages of development this year. One is a solo piece about inheritance, amnesia/memory, whiteness, and masculinity that I've developed through a class with Erika Batdorf at York this year. Since our school went on strike in March, the final assignment/performance of the piece that had been developed over the course of the year didn't happen (the adjunct/TA union is still on strike, making it the longest strike in York history.) Anyway, the piece is a series of short scenes in which I ask my grandmother, who lived with dementia for the last several years of her life, about whether our ancestors were slaveowners; explore my own relationship/complicitness in the rise of white supremacist violence by writing a letter to the mother of Elliott Rodgers, who gunned down 6 people in Santa Barbara last year; reckoning with my ancestors; and exploring what it might mean to refuse an inheritance. I got some good feedback about the piece and then worked with a few people to develop some movement scores that feel related to the concepts, or to exploring these concepts in visceral, literal/poetic ways--such as tracing an impulse in the body and attempting to remove it/cut it out, and "practicing forgetting"--how might you practice forgetting something? I got a lot of insight from this process and while I'm not clear yet how it's fitting into the solo piece, or if it's going more towards a workshop or another piece, it was really interesting and a new way of working for me. 

I'm looking forward to continuing to share and workshop this piece and also to incorporating some new materials and material I'm excited about (like white flour). Broadly I see this project as part of a bigger vision of finding ways to reckon with history and unjust systems we've inherited and to find new ways to think, feel, and create discursive space that might invite more people into the conversation or open up new ways of approaching the topics of racism, inheritance, some of what "whiteness" means, and white supremacy in our culture--feelings beyond and through guilt and paralysis, embracing and building complex narratives and complex personhood all around, and trying to move through my own fears about doing it wrong.

I'm excited to talk with people about these topics and themes and particularly to think about how making work like this could fit into the bigger picture of working for reparations and social justice. I'm also really interested in connecting with other white folks who are doing genealogy research and reckoning with violent histories and might want to talk about that or stay in touch through the slow unfolding of that long project. Please do get in touch if you're interested in that. I'm also still figuring out/exploring this connection between memory/amnesia/dementia and whiteness (how is forgetting a crucial mechanism in the coming-into-being of a white identity and how might that be persisting?) so if you have thoughts on that, or reading recommendations, etc., I'd love that. Also, while the piece isn't 'done,' it's currently about 20 minutes long and I'm interested in finding opportunities to share it as it is and to continue working on it.

The second thing I found myself excited about in the residency was a project I've been thinking about for the past year about precarity and anxiety. Last summer at Ponderosa, an arts-oriented land project in eastern Germany, I read an essay by the Institute for Precarious Consciousness called "Anxiety, affective struggle, and precarity consciousness-raising" and I was really excited by the invitation to use this model of feminist consciousness-raising groups to 'make theory'/to develop a greater understanding of why anxiety is so widespread and how it might be not just a personal/private issue but really a symptom/manifestation of structural/economic issues, and how beginning with personal experience, feelings, and stories might generate ideas and actions for how to face the unique challenges of this era. There's a lot more context/background of this idea in the article (here's the link) and a condensed version put out by We Are Plan C titled "We Are All Very Anxious."

So, after a year of thinking about, doubting, and re-validating the relevance of the idea, I finally held a precarity consciousness-raising circle with other resident artists where we told stories about anxiety and noticed themes and patterns in our stories and experience. It was a real highlight of my time here and I got real positive responses from participants. Inspired by that experience, I wrote a zine/score for hosting these circles. I'm hoping to do an 8-week series of circles in Toronto this fall and am interested in syncing with other people in other places who would like to host circles and share results. The idea would be that each group produces some kind of documentation/writing of the experience and the ideas that resulted--basically, that we're contributing to growing a pool of knowledge about how anxiety isn't just a personal struggle but is also a "public secret"--"an affective state...induced by the dominant force of power...that tends to be personalized and reinforced by a culture of silence or submersion" (Institute for Precarious Consciousness, 273). 

I've posted the first draft of this zine on my website (link here) and if you'd like to host a consciousness-raising group and/or are interested in staying in touch about that project, get in touch! There will be a mailing list for groups to share reflections/ideas/documentation of their process and you're welcome to join even if you're not hosting a group.

The residency has also been great and expansive in lots of other ways--a fake wedding, midnight swimming in the river, the delight of being in a small town that has an art space (something I'm still dreaming of for Cave Junction), living in community with my sweetheart, Sophie (who's also one of the facilitators/organizers for this residency...and an amazing person), singing romance novels, morning writing prompts, new friends, really good food, getting to meet people through their work and creative processes, and a mix of thundering rain and bright sunny days which is ongoingly surprising and delightful to me after becoming accustomed to the rainy season/fire season rhythm I've come to know in Oregon. 

Let's see, what else--well, I'm headed back to Toronto in the next few days to run a place-based virtual reality film-making workshop with Ian Garrett and Sophie. Then I'm headed to Queens to participate in the Cornerstone Theatre Summer Institute. Cornerstone is one of the oldest community-based theatre ensembles/organizations in the US and they in the 70s' started by doing residencies in rural communities all over the US in which they hosted story circles and made shows with combined casts of professional and non-professional, local and nonlocal artists. I've been really interested in their story circle methodology for many years, since reading about them in Jan Cohen Cruz's book "Local Acts," so I'm super excited to get a chance to dive into that work. We'll be living and working at Queens College and I'm anticipating it'll be a pretty intensive/immersive experience but also hoping to do some swimming, see friends in NYC, ride my bike, and enjoy summer. If you're interested in that project we'll be developing in Queens, you can check out the blog here.

I'll be back in Toronto in the fall for my last term of my Masters program at York (if the strike is done by then) and then--not sure. Connecting with rural communities and arts-based organizing work on this side of the continent? Pittsburgh? Toronto? One thing at a time. But I've been singing this song with Sophie--"I don't know, I don't know what lies behind or before me / the way is dark but I can see / I can see / Open the door, open the door / I go in." (link here)

Happy summer solstice!