A very belated post of some images from the maiden voyage of ‘Photo Play’, an original performance piece I wrote and developed in September of 2015 with a stellar cast of theater artists. ‘Photo Play’ asks questions about our human preoccupation with photographs – how the experience of being photographed and seeing images of ourselves shapes our identities, and – especially since the advent of digital photography and social media – how we use images to shape our identities in the eyes of others. In 2016 I’m hoping to develop the piece further, whether into an evening-length performance, an immersive performance/ exhibit, an interactive installation, or some combination of the three. Stay tuned!
Turn and face the strange.
Although I can’t claim to be a superfan by any stretch – I’m not the type to memorize track lists or trivia or argue the merits of one album over the other – I loved David Bowie. For his bewitching voice that could brood – sexy, deep, and foreboding – explode with cut-glass urgency, or shimmer in the ear like a secret stage whisper. For his relentless weirdness, which sprang not from a desire to stand out (“weird for weird’s sake”) but from the jumpy mercurial muse that lived in him – the one he never ignored. And for his courage, to be a long-haired bisexual musician in a dress long before it was remotely acceptable or sexy, and without any bad-ass posse to back him up.
A few weeks ago on Patti Smith’s 69th birthday – the same age Bowie turned just a few days before his death – I declared that “Fuck The Clock” was going to be my motto for 2016. It reflects the effort I’m trying to make in my creative work these days (which might be called anti-effort) to stop trying to force a practice, and just…listen. To be patient. To allow my impulses to lead me, both in terms of the desired product or end-goal and in how I get there. Instead of insisting that I spend a certain amount of time per day doing a series of tasks or following a particular process to begin producing something specific, I’m trying instead to make space and just do what interests me. That might be listening to music or watching ridiculous videos or reading a graphic novel or taking a walk. Whatever it is, I trust that it will lead me somewhere useful. Fertile. And ultimately somewhere that’s engaging to an audience.
It’s not an easy thing to do, this letting go of methodical process, and I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with it in practice. So I keep repeating “fuck the clock”, to remind me that there is no time-frame to produce anything – at least not yet – and by slowing down and listening to my impulses I am bound to arrive somewhere that’s far more nuanced, intriguing, and true – both to me and anyone who witnesses my work – than if I forced a regimented development schedule on myself. I believe this.
For now it’s the thing.
Space→ Trust → Action
Turn and face the strange.
So I just spent money renewing the domain hosting on this damned site and I feel like I need to POST SOMETHING ALREADY. There are a couple of ideas in the can but while they’re being uh…developed (? my metaphor game isn’t strong), here are some idiotic seasonal photos.
News soon. Promise.
Still firmly infirm and formidably un-formed, in this NPR interview with Louis C.K. there are two ideas pushing their way to the surface that may define my focus in 2015. I don’t do resolutions as a general rule, but I do reflect. I revisit. I dismantle and re-assemble. All the time.
“I thought, ‘I want to do something that’s compelling and really a good monologue, but the crowd might not be there for it.’ It may not be their thing, so I trained for that monologue. I did a lot of sets in town and I did a lot of clubs where there was no audience really, or places where I knew I would do poorly because I wanted to be sure that the monologue would go well whether the audience likes me or not.”
So smart. That’s true dedication, skill, talent, even. It’s knowing yourself: your abilities, your limitations, your appeal, well enough that you see clearly the gap between where you are and where you want to be, then you span it by working hard and working smart.
“I was in trouble a lot when I was a kid, so I got used to it. Like, when you’re never in trouble, you can never go to places like that. But if you’re in trouble all the time, it’s like, why not? I mean, I know what this feels like. I know I can survive everybody being pissed off at me.”
This has always been difficult for me. I was not in trouble a lot as a kid (I still fucked up but was good at hiding it), so disrupting the status quo, risking disapproval or the possibility that I might not be sufficiently armed to respond to criticism, feels scary, out of my depth. I am no pushover, but left to my own devices I would just as soon sit and watch others tell their stories, speak uncomfortable truths, than tell my own. If I am to feel any kind of satisfaction in my creative accomplishments, that needs to end.
Playing a superhero in The Astonishing Adventures of All-American Girl and the Scarlet Skunk has been…a trip, and for the most part a good one. Lots of lessons, many of them personal and therefore too tedious to disclose here. But the most surprising discovery so far is that superheroism, at its essence, means:
- Good posture
- Earnest delivery of catchphrases
- Frequent hand-washing of delicates
Though I’ve basically abandoned my “20 Years 20 Stories” writing prompt, it still feels like a very New York-y year. I find myself thinking about the-City-with-a-capital-C a lot as I move through it: how it shapes its citizens, cultivates habits, and never, ever stops changing.
Thanks to The Hairpin, I discovered The Long-Winded Lady: Notes From the New Yorker, by Maeve Brennan. It’s a collection of observational essays about New York City that appeared regularly in The New Yorker from 1954 to 1981. Though the pieces vary in length from a few paragraphs to several pages each, they’re somehow exactly the right length to read in bed before falling asleep with a cat nestled in my hair. (Coincidentally, Brennan did own a cat who makes cameo appearances in a few of the essays, but for once this is not a post about cats.)
Brennan’s writing about New York City is disarmingly simple – it can feel like a stream-of-consciousness on paper, a trail of notes dashed off without much considered thought. A closer read reveals precisely-cut gems made up of intimate yet impersonal observations that – here’s the thing – ring as true today as they must have when first published. Part of that is due to Brennan’s keen observational sense: she is direct and unsentimental, but also clever and occasionally wry. Her vignettes don’t follow any scripted form and end suddenly, without resolution, which makes them a perfect expression of New York City. The way she documents lives (including her own) as if jotting down thoughts on a cocktail napkin captures the way every New Yorker’s life bumps into countless others as we engage in our everyday routines.
The stories are striking, in spite of their plainspokenness or – I suspect – because of it. Our modern multi-tasking fog means that we’re not used to reading anything that isn’t engineered to manipulate our attention to a calculated end. Brennan simply writes what she sees, without comment or agenda. And what she sees much of the time is change. Churn. Turnover. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Long-Winded Lady is that Brennan was every bit as rueful about the destruction of her “true” New York as we are about ours today. There are frequent mentions of favorite restaurants closing, buildings being razed, and entire neighborhoods losing their character when particular trades became obsolete. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but I am. I like to think there was a time when popular opinion favored maintaining the status quo (in terms of beautiful architecture or culture) over erasing it in the name of whatever’s new and lucrative. But New York has never stood still, for better or worse. I’m not opposed to change, just to change for its own sake, or for profit over community value. And despite its sprawl and mottled appearance, New York City is a community; one that remains in perpetual motion, perpetually pursuing the next, new, lucrative thing.
Every September 11th, I imagine the little box where I sat on the 51st floor of the South Tower. I remember the hallway, the break room, and the perpetual white noise of the HVAC system. Sometimes I think of the other reception desk I worked on the 54th floor, or the 100th floor of the North Tower, where I was also occasionally assigned, but mostly I think of 51 South. Glass on one side, door adjacent, wall behind me, fax machine to my right. There was a phone, a buzzer to let people in, and a rule against doing anything except staring through the glass into the lobby. My job was to greet, to answer calls, to be a human body so visitors getting off the elevator weren’t confused. It was a temporary job but I had a permanent ID with a picture. Every morning for six months I joined the throng of people in the elevator banks, traveling first to a floor somewhere in the 30s, and then taking another elevator to wherever I was working that day.
I sat in the box until about 10:30, when I got a 20 minute break – almost exactly the amount of time it took to take the elevators to the underground mall and make a quick circuit before heading back up. I did a lot of power walking at the time; I was very conscious of the dangers of a sedentary desk job: specifically, that I would gain weight. I developed a taste for the Jenny Craig energy bars they sold at the Duane Reade below Tower 2.
By lunchtime I was desperate to be outside, striding up Church Street or over to the water outside the Winter Garden. In the colder months I ate lunch inside, sitting a vacant cubicle next to a window so I could enjoy the view that was a privilege of working in the Towers. In high winds the walls creaked loudly like a pirate ship, which my coworkers assured me was normal. We joked that it was better that the buildings bend than break and crumble.
There were frequent fire drills, when we crowded the narrow stairwells linking each floor and listened to the fire marshal. He gave the usual warnings against taking elevators in cases of emergency, and we sighed and rolled our eyes the way anyone who works in an office tower might. And the way anyone might, we all imagined in vivid detail what a real emergency would look like, including the desperate unlikelihood of so many people evacuating quickly from buildings that high through the stairs.
My job at the World Trade Center ended in the Spring of 2001. It was only a temp job. But every year I remember.
Constant talk about how New York City has changed. Listen to it: “This isn’t the city I grew up in”, “It’s not what it used to be”, “The chain stores have drained all its character”.
All of those things are true. I know it’s different from when I first came here. Do I miss how it used to be – 20 years ago, or even 10? Moments stick out, stay sticky, won’t let go. They imbue buildings, cross-streets with emotion, nostalgia, unspeakable attachment. But when someone says “New York has changed so much” I can’t feel it – I stretch out my arms, reach my fingers wide, try to receive it on my skin. Nothing.
Still, I agree. I say, “New York has changed.” But seen through the lenses of 16 million eyes, New York has changed us too. In increments it changed and we adjusted, without ever noticing. Suddenly these arms I stretch out, these eyes I squeeze closed, aren’t the same ones I had then. My body has forgotten how to thrill at the constellation of possibilities the city lays out before me. More than anything, I want to remember.
So when I say “New York has changed” and shake my head, and sigh, what I really mean is, “I have changed.” Isn’t that why I came here? To jump into the fray and be transfigured?
We are the sentient infrastructure, not the concrete or the taxi tires grinding through potholes. We shift the painted firmament, tug at the traffic tides, influence subway karma. It comes with the territory.
Hi there. I was planning on posting stories here but a number of things have shut me up, or prompted me to shut up. On purpose. I’m trying to create head space, take the necessary time to stare at the ceiling instead of hammer myself into panicked productivity with self-sparked projects, fictional deadlines. So far it’s going…ok. For the most part space has been created. But very little fills it. No grand inspiration, no feverish impulse, no AHA! Which feels supremely strange. And worrisome.
I tell myself to be patient – YES PATIENCE IS THE KEY – but I’ve never been one to wait for inspiration to strike. Jonathan Winters said, “swim out to meet it” and I’m a Jonathan Winters kind of gal.
I’m trying something new here. So no stories for a bit. Except for those I can bang out in a single draft, a single sitting, without any agita, drang, or premeditation.
Like this post for instance.
THIS IS ONE OF 20 RANDOM LITTLE STORIES I’M POSTING IN ADVANCE OF MY 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN NEW YORK CITY, WHICH WILL HIT IN THE FALL OF 2013. CLICK HERE FOR MORE BACKGROUND, AND FEEL FREE TO SHARE YOUR OWN STORIES IN THE COMMENTS – RANDOMER THE BETTER!
“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
The man seemed to appear out of nowhere. He cut a slight figure in slim jeans, a collared shirt, and brown loafers. His energy was twitchy, his weight shifting from one foot to the other so that he almost seemed to dance above the pavement. He didn’t move towards me but put up both hands defensively. “Don’t worry; I’m gay. It’s not like that.”
I hesitated but kept my distance. It was already dark on Fifth Avenue and both sides of the street were deserted. I was a sophomore in college walking home to my dorm. Though my demeanor had grown a protective exoskeleton in the two years I had lived in New York, I still felt vulnerable from time to time. I started to utter an excuse and he talked right over it, pinning me to the spot with his words. He explained that he was a wardrobe supervisor for a feature film, and that he had to get a rack of costumes – very expensive costumes – uptown to the next location where they were shooting. He had to get a cab because things were already behind schedule but his wallet had been stolen, so he had no money and the shoot would be ruined – he would be ruined – if these costumes didn’t make it uptown.
“So I’m wondering if you’d be kind enough to lend me $20. I can pay you back; I’ll give you my card, you can write your address on it and I’ll send you the money. I’m good for it; I hate having to ask like this but I don’t have a choice.”
The man was well-dressed and tanned. He was older but well-preserved – maybe 50? He was clearly used to nice things, but I did not for a minute believe his story. I was more stunned than anything, amazed that he had spun this elaborate tale just to get $20 out of me. It was obviously rehearsed but he sold it well; I could see it working on a person less skeptical than the one I had become. Though short on details (where exactly were these “costumes” and what would he have done if I asked to see them?) his tale had a whiff of truth, and I imagined that at one time he probably had been involved with the film industry. Maybe he had been a costume assistant who was felled by mental illness or wrecked by a romantic entanglement with a designer he idolized, sending him reeling into a downward spiral that eventually led here, to running this scam on Fifth Avenue. Admittedly it was a pretty cushy backdrop for a hustle, but one that worked for his particular narrative.
I snapped out of free-associating his biography long enough to stammer something along the lines of “Sorry I don’t have any money”. I added a “Sorry, good luck” when he started to ask whether we could go to an ATM because “I’m really desperate here.” He delivered that last line with such conviction. I really was sorry. I believed he was desperate, though not for the reasons he gave. For a moment I wished I was more naïve, or at least rich enough – kind enough? – to overlook his obvious trickery.
Once he saw I was serious, the man seemed disappointed. He played the appropriate reaction and let his shoulders slump, sighing. I had probably seemed like a sympathetic mark. I started walking away, and quickly just in case. After a block I looked back – just in case – and saw that he had magically regained his dancer’s energy. His feet were animated again. I heard “I’m gay. It’s not like that.” He had already launched into his shpiel with someone else.