Wednesday, 26 December 2018

2018

Despite its tumultuousness almost globally, 2018 was a year of accomplishments for me. I earned my master's from NYU Tisch this year, after a lightning-quick program of only nine months. I've applied to two Ph.D. programs in hopes of continuing that study. I've been working enough to survive in New York City, which is a great feat alone. Some of this work has put me in front of the camera, an avenue I'd like to explore more going into the future. I've been directing and teaching, singing and playing, acting and writing—using all of my skills to put together an artistic and academic life.

In 2019, I'm launching Rogue Pedagogy to further explore that artistic and academic life. As I wrote in my recent application essays:
Rogue seeks to exploit the primary relationship that defines theatre, according to Jerzy Grotowski and others. An example of this definition can be found in Tadashi Suzuki’s essay “On Acting”—theatre is the specific space where the actor and spectator interact. The actor-spectator relationship is explored by a number of artist-theorists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Augusto Boal, who writes about turning the spectator into an actor through his interventions such as Forum Theatre. By utilizing performance strategies from these and other artist-theorists through the lens of [Diana] Taylor’s work (and others’), Rogue hopes to produce theatrical and workshop experiences which can foster learning. Learning is especially important given the current political climate, where so much of the discord between people can be found in educational disparity. (Some of this has to do with the will to learn, following Rancière, who rightly notes that learning can only take place if the learner has the will to learn. Where there is no will to learn, there is no learning.)
Through learning, we learn about each other. By learning about each other, we become more tolerant of each other—not the sort of tolerance which allows bigotry and hatred to flourish, but rather the sort of tolerance which understands difference as merely a part of the human experience. Learning encourages curiosity, which breeds understanding. This is why, for me, there is no greater contribution which can be made to humanity than the fostering of learning; and this is why I feel it is so important to share performance’s power to change minds—as both a cure and a warning.
I'm starting 2019 off with a stage show, The Buddy Holly Story at the Engeman Theater in Northport, N.Y. I'll be continuing my work with American Immersion Theater and singing with Calvary-St. George's Parish in New York City. And, of course, Jade Rosenberg and I are still writing a musical we hope to have finished in 2019.

So, may the new year be filled with abundance, peace, and hope—for you, for me, for everyone!

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Marriage

My relationship with the concept of marriage is a bit fraught. I went through my first divorce at the age of thirteen, when my dad decided he didn't want to be with my mom anymore. At the time, he painted it like it was Mom's decision, but that's not really what happened. My second divorce occurred when I was just out of my undergrad. That time it was my stepmom who made the call, but it wasn't without reason; and, being older, I was able to see her side very clearly. My dad's actions forced me out of his circle as well, and it's been strained ever since, even as now he is on his third family. I went through my own divorce beginning about five years ago, an ordeal that left me psychologically scarred.

A lot has happened since. A lot of healing has taken place, and in the past year and a half, I have felt myself again. It's been a journey, and I am grateful for all the stops along the way, all the people I have met, and all the friends who have stuck with me despite the darkness and pain I've carried with me.

They say that, historically, marriage is a business transaction. It's a merging of assets to create a larger fortune, or to expand one's territory, or to gain prestige. The relationship between marriage and love has been argued extensively. Romeo and Juliet might be about that, though A Midsummer Night's Dream takes the concept to its absurd conclusion—and still ends with all the couples neatly arranged, all the love settled and ordained. I've been of the mind for some time that love can be true, lasting, and even consecrated without the mantle of marriage thrown upon it. Yet, marriage has its visibility in the law, and so I see the benefit of getting married as an addition to the love two people feel, not as a necessity.

This is all to say that I've met someone. She's a perfect fit, made to measure, a match I would go to the grave with. As much as I know there is no real need for marriage to sanctify our love, I understand its importance. The act of marrying is one that J.L. Austin recognized as one of the basic performative utterances—in being said, it is done. The marriage ceremony is all performance, but that performance has a certain power, a particular meaning. It is a ritual which many communities perform, though in different ways and with slightly different meanings and purposes around the globe. There is a spiritual aspect which weaves with the communal aspect. It allows the community to participate in the shared love, and, for those who believe, it invites the divine presence into a shared life.

It is hard to know what the future holds, but having a kindred spirit share your path makes it better. I hope we may be able to always see that benefit, and to always see the good in each other, and support each other through the darkness and pain which always inevitably arises. Patience, understanding, and love is the only way to heal the world.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Reflection on a Final in Fred Moten's Class

An excerpt from the scroll.

Some of the members of the class put together an eighteen foot scroll comprised of the work done through the course, as inspired by or adjacent to our work. Palimpsest is seen throughout in the layering of text and images (and textual images). There is no sense of where to begin or end, given the orientation of the text in all directions. The piece is disorienting in its orientation and presentation. The invitation was made to have other members of the class add to the scroll, participation being part of the piece. There could be a circumvention of the typical mode of knowledge production expected of the university subject: the book or the paper does not need to be crammed into a particular format. This piece evades the capture of the university as knowledge object, though might be subsumed under the category of artistic work (if they could in some way monetize its creation). If the collective work of the piece points to a sort of absurdism, it is the absurdism of the institution itself which is the piece’s focus. The expression of frustration permeating the piece does not obscure the evidence that knowledge has been transferred or produced in the process.

The only element that might not be entirely evident in looking at the object is the presence of an indication of a palimpsestic time. This temporality is more evident in the performance of the object’s creation. Conversation goes on around as the object is added to, appended, modified only through addition and not erasure. Layers placed on top of other layers still afford the spectator or viewer an opportunity to examine all the pieces, the bits which form the assemblage of the piece. The symbolic gesture of the piece is one of continuation—of continuing study, of a communal always working towards. In this way, the piece retains both its performativity on the outsider and performance within its community. The point at which addition to the piece ends confers upon the community its move from performers to spectators in the performance being acted on by its residual performativity. Importantly, no one has an ideal vision for this piece, no utopian horizon. The vision is mere existence.

4 May 2018

Friday, 26 October 2018

Sacred Space

When I was teaching high school in California, I attended a workshop on the Get Lit program as part of the regular training that teachers undergo to keep their educational skills fresh and relevant. Get Lit exposes high schoolers, especially those considered “at risk,” to poetry in an attempt to get them to respond and connect to the world around them. One of the things we talked about was creating a “sacred space” for writing. The thought had never occurred to me that we artists, writers included, create these spaces for ourselves to work.

When I think about the term “sacred space,” I immediately think of a church sanctuary, being the traditional form of the sacred space—that is, it is a space reserved for the sacred. It is infused with spirituality in some way; reverence hangs in its air. We go there to worship. It stands to reason that we might designate more than one place for the sacred; and, as the act of creation might be thought of inherently as divinely inspired, it's no wonder we should seek a sacred space in which to do our own creation.

The act of writing, like other arts, is a release. It's a means for us to deal with our days, our lives, through more than just talking about it. If we write poetry, we may just write it for ourselves, but the effect is still there. (The effect amplifies when you share your work and someone else says, “I understand.”) When we write, we become our own creators, using these tools called words to make sense of our world, or create new worlds entirely. As we might know, the Abrahamic God was fairly judicious with a certain spark of creation. Here are some lessons we might glean about creation and sacred space from the Big Guy Upstairs.

God creates in God's own time. As creators, we need to find our own time to create. If you write or create art better in the morning, then make that your time. Block it out on your calendar.

When God creates a sacred space, God starts with light. But you might start with furniture, or simply location. Find a place that feeds you. A sacred space should feel spiritual, calming, connected. When I was living in Los Angeles, my sacred space is usually outdoors; if I didn't want to go far, I'd sit out on my balcony, in the chair I bought at a church yard sale on Long Island. In the Bronx, where I live now, my office area has plenty of windows to let in the light, and I use incense to create a pleasing spiritual atmosphere. You might designate another part of your home, a corner of a room, perhaps, near a window. Put furniture and objects there that feed your soul. Play with the light and art on the walls. Find your spirit and your quiet center. Maybe music or ambient sound, like a waterfall, will help. Maybe some candles can set the mood. Once you have the perfect combination, hold onto it. This is your sacred space.

Attached to your sacred space is the idea of ritual. For some, the fact that they write in their sacred space daily is ritual enough. That doesn't do it for me, and the Bible is filled with references to God's love of the ritual. So, come up with a ritual for your sacred space. It might be a prayer, or yoga, or some other meditation. It might be something tactile like doing a quick puzzle or washing your hands. As for me, my ritual is making coffee or tea. Find a ritual that speaks to you and your space.

Finally, God saw his creation was good. We don't always produce the best work. Not everything we write is the next Great Gatsby, and not everything we paint is Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte. (Sunday in the Park with George, anyone?) But, as creators, we have to affirm our work positively. We did it. There's no reason to put down our own work. The act of creation is in itself good, so why downplay it?

And for us, in our sacred spaces, we must hold onto hope that, whatever we do, we can make the world a better place, one stroke of creation at a time.

Adapted from an article originally published in The Good News, the newsletter of Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, Sept. 2015.

Friday, 8 June 2018

More on Newark in the 1960s

Here is another piece written by my grandfather and typed up by my grandmother on 9 June 2010.

MY BIT OF HISTORY
by Rev. Harold W. Story

In the years of the 1960s, the racial prejudice and discrimination here in the United States of America was to be faced in turbulent and highly explosive events.

I was serving as Pastor of the Memorial West Presbyterian Church, 7th Avenue and South Orange Avenue, Newark, New Jersey, from 1962 to 1969. Racial riots broke out in cities across the country. Tensions increased in Newark also, and in the mostly black populated neighborhood where the church was located. White vs. Black. For example, I was elected to be a Trustee of Area #3 Community Center. At our first meeting blacks took over in our place.

There were threats to invade the church and disrupt worship. I was told that they could use our church building to better serve their community. I had tried to make our congregation do that by being a more inclusive and welcoming church to all persons from the area.

I used the word “inclusive” rather than integrated as I believe this was the meaning of Jesus Christ for us; for example, Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan” who came to help someone—a Jew, perhaps—as they discriminated against the Samaritans (much like Jew vs. Arab today). Two persons went by without helping the man, but finally one not of his race or religion came to his rescue.

In a society where segregation was so widespread, I tried to make a difference—hoping that members of our church would work at change among the races of our society. Many black people had moved from the South up to the North seeking better treatment—only to find the same racial problems there.

Martin Luther King was spokesman for racial equality as a challenge to the nation. The Greater Newark Council of Churches members were asked to go to Alabama to join Dr. King in the March from Selma to Montgomery that was held on March 21-25, 1965. I was on my way and met a woman member of my Church. She asked where I was going; I told her I was going to go with a group from Newark to march with Dr. King in Alabama. She told me I should not go; my work was in Newark. I told her I needed to help ease the racial problems in both places.

We flew to an airport in Alabama close to where we joined the march for the final two days. There were many protesters to meet us. The newspapers claimed we were trouble-makers, socialists/communists who came to stir up trouble. As we walked behind Dr. King, I saw both black and white persons along the route watching our peaceful march. Fortunately, our group did not face the attacks as some had, although we were shouted at by angry protestors in the crowds.

Governor George Wallace had called in police to block the protesters. In contrast, we assembled en masse to hear Dr. Martin Luther King give one of his deeply moving speeches. (Also, earlier, in 1963, I went to Washington, D.C., to hear Rev. Dr. King give another great speech, “I Have a Dream,” at our nation’s capitol.) Sadly, though, Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, 1968. His dream is still alive as some of us are trying to make it a reality—for all persons regardless of race—in our American society.

***

Just one experience I had during the time of the inter-racial troubles in Newark in 1967. I was down the street from my Church, walking as other clergy were to help ease the tension in the City. I saw a group of people gathered in front of a Chinese laundry, looking into the windows of the store. Two dogs were barking inside. I asked why the people were there and was told that they were concerned about the owner, whether he was alright—dead or alive.

I then saw a convoy of the National Guard trucks coming—called then to restore order within Newark. I motioned to the men in the first jeep to stop. Two came over to us and asked what I wanted. I told them the people were concerned about the safety of the Chinese owner—whether or not he was in the store and alright. Also, whether his dogs should be fed. Two of the soldiers drew their rifles ready to shoot, but I stopped them, I stopped them—we only were concerned to help the man. They lowered their guns.

I asked them to wait; I went to the corner candy store to use the phone … I had been told that the laundry man’s name was Mr. Lee. I knew there were Lees who were members of the First Presbyterian Church of Newark on Broad Street. So I scanned the Lees until I found one at an address near the church. I phoned and asked the person if a Mr. Lee who owned the laundry on South Orange Avenue in Newark was there. He answered, “I am his cousin; he is here with us and is alright.” How about that!

I went back to tell the crowd and the soldiers that Mr. Lee was alright safe with his cousin. The National Guardsmen left. A day later I walked by the laundry store and saw that bullets had shattered the windows, and bullet holes were in the laundry upon the shelves.

***

I tell this to say that the caring for others can be done by and for anyone regardless of their race or religion, thus to make real the hope of Dr. Martin Luther King and the teaching of Jesus Christ in their speeches and sermons.