Saturday, July 21, 2007

Labor Pains

I have little to add.
All I can do is pay witness
to the effort of this small life
in its pains to birth itself

and we?
having eaten all we can handle
as greedy and obese
and as bent on attending
to our own inner workings

I can't help but see
the way he folds his hands
curled around his face
quivers and shakes
with what seems like

What if every obese person in the world right now
Each one of us carrying too much weight, excess baggage
were to suddenly hang ourselves upside down
engage in meditation
and solemnly strain
to split our skins

Can you imagine
the trust involved in this whole process?
To willingly sleep, knowing you'll be visited by a dream
that will change you forever,
No promises,
No guarantees,
No recourse to sue should anything go wrong.

Nothing to go on but an instinct.

Yes, I'm back on that track again.
I still find it mind-boggling that every other creature on the planet, right down to its smallest insects and even single-celled organisms, has been given instructions on how to live. They carry out their lives faithfully and following a healthy code of genetic variance to expand diversity and that species' chances.

And I feel somewhat cheated, that my species, or my culture at any rate, lost its code. Is this what being booted out of the garden is all about? That we know longer seem to be able to fit into any natural system without destroying a fragile balance-- eventually rendering it unsuitable even for ourselves.

We are able to peer into nature piece by piece, whether by electrode microscopes or Hubble telescopes. Great and small, there are distinctive patterns that infuse everything. All seems based on certain unalienable codes, that are far more comprehensive than our bill of unalienable rights. Un Alien Able. Alien. Outsider. From another planet? Another star? Even those stars seem to be dancing the same dance-- swirls and sworls seem as our own breath exhales on a frosty night. Even Aliens, I suspect, aren't immune to the same rules.

A Stab at Naming (or inventing) a Few of These Codes: (If I were a science major these might be more accurate, but it's 12:26am and I'm in the mood to brainstorm:)

1) Diversity is a result of stability. A song has a chance to play itself out with exponentially greater variations, with increasingly more time given to compose.

2) Big changes that happen fast interrupt the song; many don't make it. Due to diversity, some do. That song is remembered and passed on. As the change becomes old news, the songs left over have a chance to rework and begin the process again. (ie. Mammoths and Giant Sloths went extinct in the ice age, but other species sprang up since then)

3) The easier the conditions of survival (and if successful adaptations were made) the more songs get started. More freedom is taken. There is a tendency to get artistic, more creative, more daring in shapes and forms and absurd specializations. (ie. red i'iwi birds in Hawaii that can only sip nectar from one certain tubular flower. Or the zillions of dragonfly bodies, each one shimmering in its own unique armor.)

4) Creativity is vital to survival. Monocultures may be more efficient, but in the end, are tremendously more fragile. Without creativity, potentially species-saving innovations are impossible.

5) The essential difference between humans and animals seems to be our efforts at cultivation: of food, yes, but more significantly, we cultivate our own cultures. In the absence of memory of our instinctual codes, we write our own codes -- Or, in most cases, a cultural code is handed over to us, and we follow it.

6) Certain individuals in any culture will tend to challenge and rebel against the established "codes". Most often these individuals are young, who are still able to sense what the weaknesses are-- and haven't yet gotten "used to it." They are the most sensitive, more apt to believe that things can still be improved.
Youth are more wild. They are less domesticated, and are more in tune with their instincts. Even if they can't articulate or fully understand WHY things seem wrong, a general sense of dissatisfaction, anger, and rebelliousness pervades our youth culture.

7) Oldness seems to = resignation. After a certain age, it seems people more or less wish things could have stayed the same. Adaption becomes increasingly more difficult. It takes too much energy to learn the world anew. Oldness, however, can be more a matter of perspective than of physical years on the planet. If their adaption muscles have been adequately exercised, many elders retain their mental flexibility.

8) Children, and certain artists seem to intuitively understand that reality is what we make it. They view themselves as self-appointed masters of their own universes. Children and artists spend a considerable amount of time playing, discovering, inventing and testing.

9) Play, creativity, and paying attention to our youth are essential components to keeping culture healthy and attuned to itself.

Within my parents' lifetimes, a man was sent up to the moon for the first time. And now, most people seem to think it's impossible that we can create a way to live, sustainably, right here on earth.

Do we have so little faith in our own ingenuity?

Right now, (by my observations and in generalization), we have a culture which:

Monocrops our food
Monocrops our cultures (stomping our diversity and pressing for assimilation-- sameness of thought--, I think largely through tools of religion and pop culture)
Marginalizes youth, artists, and free thinkers in general

Who do we let be the authors of our culture?
Who do you choose as your "culture authority"?
When was the last time you really played?
When did you begin to be less curious about testing the world out for yourself, and begin accepting things the way they are?
Do you think of yourself as a cultural leader, follower, or just someone doing their own thing?

...Oh, yes, two last observations:

10) the cultures that have survived the longest seem to retain the memory, passed down from generation to generation, to respect the land and take care of it. Perhaps in their millenia of evolution, they are the survivors of a near wipe-out, and what remains of the lesson learned is a hard-wired value.

11) It seems likely that the only way out of this is not marketplace driven or even legislation, but the birth of a new cultural code-- to re-wire the value of land stewardship into our most essential values. If the heart is in place, will the neccessary inventiveness follow?
To make these changes stick is going to take a whole lot of creativity, and the power of our youth.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

About the videos "Briefcase Sweetheart" and "Wild America"

Check out the latest 2 video installments!
(Click on the images in the right-hand column)
"Briefcase Sweetheart" and "Wild America"

"Briefcase Sweetheart" is a much different approach to dancing in space. Whereas the other explorations have been improvised (Butoh is, for the most part, an improvised art)-- this one I worked over a few times to polish it up. I got some very strange looks from people hiking past, along the north shore of Lake Superior's Temperance River State Park. Why a business suit? I wanted the surreal juxtaposition, like Rene Magritte's suited figures raining down from the sky.

Sometimes I feel like an alien when I go out to a wild place. I can't seem to leave my city life truly behind me, and so I take it along. It tags along like an uninvited sweetheart... I'm so wrapped up in my relationship to this metaphorical briefcase that I never seem to fully arrive in "nature" before it's time to go back to the city again.

Inside the briefcase is a sheet of white paper. For summer work right now, I am teaching landscape painting to kids. Something interesting happens when I draw or paint things: I enter more deeply into it, looking close-- admiring subtle details that might have escaped my notice. Shadows and light, color and form. And yet, as I paint, I begin to feel more and more distant from what I'm painting. I am so focused on capturing this image for later, that I become totally unaware of my body, of my physical comfort, and block out awareness of anything else happening around me. So I simultaneously become hyper-sensitive and deadened to perception. Strange.

And afterwards, the place I was in, the multi-dimensional place and moment becomes, suddenly, an object.... The painting still exists to record this meeting, of artist and place... but it is framed. It is reduced. It has been made so much less real than it was. And what makes this place so special, that I should spend so much effort in remembering it? Is my living room at home any less special?

(music for "Briefcase Sweetheart" is from Pieces of Africa by Kronos Quartet)
"Wild America" video ... Science & Spirit

Ever since I was a kid, I would battle with my sister over the remote control for the TV-- She'd want to watch the Monkees. Me, Marty Stouffer's "Wild America." I used to dream about becoming a naturalist, getting to interact with all kinds of creatures and witnessing all that cool stuff I'd see on TV. Well, now I get the chance to be my own Nature Show host.

I'm interested in exploring and making apparent some of the general ways I interact with nature-- as an introduction to this performance as a whole. In my "Wild America Show" I approach nature as a know-it-all guide... and as a deeply Spiritual Nature Guru.

How do science and spirit intersect?

In the scientific view, nature is broken down into understandable parts. Patterns we don't understand are labeled as "random." Wendell Berry in his book of essays Home Economics writes about the discoveries of fractals, and how science is continuing to discover patterns where the category "random" was once applied. Berry states that the dismissal of patterns we don't yet understand as "random" denies the existence of mystery. The possibility that we are a part of a pattern much more vast than we'll ever be able to break down or comprehend.

Berry's essay pretty well summarizes my concept of God, or Mystery. In my view, "Intelligent Design" as a concept doesn't necessarily have to be at odds with the concept of evolution. Why have such a limited view of what "God" is?
What if God is a verb, and not a noun? If God exists in the patterns through which all things cycle? In any case, it's clear that our tampering with natural systems is having severe repercussions on a scale more grand and more minute than we could ever know. Havoc is being wreaked on entire watershed systems, and inside the flow of blood within our own bodies. Is it time, yet, for humans to acknowledge that there are aeons of accumulated wisdom stored in the DNA of every being-- when allowed the freedom to express itself and live its life as it was meant?

What are the negative effects on ourselves, our own psyches, to the extent that we've "tamed" our own instincts? Ever observe how creatures in a zoo, while perhaps in fine physical health, exhibit some form of mental neurosis? What is the essential difference between creatures that are inherently wild and untameable, versus those which are considered "domesticable"? Why would any creature submit itself to another being, against the better judgment of its own instinct?

In nature, most systems are self-righting -- that is, they heal themselves over time. If I cut my skin, the sore scabs over, new skin grows beneath it, and a few weeks later the spot is totally healed. Likewise, cities are only kept nature-free through intensive maintenance. If we stopped repairing the cracks in the roads, how long would it take the grass to reclaim the pavement? It seems like the natural inclination of the universe is to heal itself. To reclaim the wisdom of its systems.

Why not assume that we humans, too, are capable of regaining balance by simply re-orienting ourselves to our "God-Given" directions? How different a human would I be, were I to stop reinforcing this facade of "separateness", and allow for the natural wisdom of my body? For example, my natural inclination is not to kill anyone in Iraq. Even if I had the means, I simply wouldn't do it. Is it possible that the systems we're currently enmeshed in are only capable of such extreme imbalance through unnatural enforcement? And if the people decided to stop feeding energy into the maintenance of this?

How many soldiers return from war with psychological damage?

Is it because, deep inside, they violated their own nature?

In any case, my version of "Wild America" is a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of myself approaching nature (as I often do) in an idealized, romantic way. And yet, the ending sequence, of dancing on the rocks, takes place at a location I've felt a connection to "the Divine" in the past. I realize that I am in constant search of those moments-- felt so rarely. The fading in and out of the video-- my dancing body billowing in and out of time with the music, "Hide and Seek" (by imogen heap), captures what it feels like to return there, to those rocks. I've had a long history of returning again and again to this place. Ghosts of past me's brush shoulders with the present. Like the clouds, I drift in and out of being.

The first time I came to this place was 8 years ago.
If the cells in my body completely recycle themselves every 7 years,
then all the bits that were once me, who came here, have now moved on into being something else.

So then why do I remember it?

(additional music in this video by sigur ros -- the "meditation & bugs" sequence)