Class 10, November 17th: The MEmorial Step 2.

 

 The MEmorial is not primarily a tools-based assignment; instead, it is an assignment and genre that starts with a problem or disaster in need of monitoring, and evolves into a project that does need to be represented through the software and hardware that constitutes what Ulmer calls the “electrate apparatus.”

MEmorials are about monitoring disasters in progress, or MEmorializing what Ulmer calls the “sore spots” of a community. MEmorials are not genres of memory so much as they are reminders to pay attention to the values and sacrifices in our society.

History and Theory of MEmorials

My first instinct, when given the task of developing an online testimonial to collective self-knowledge and monitoring a disaster in progress was climate change. It’s the disaster to end all disasters, that’s for sure. It’s also what I know, and the field that (indirectly) I’ve been working in for over twenty years. But when I sat down and wrote a script to underlie the piece it was too much. It was too big to fit into the space, I couldn’t get my head or my soul around it – it’s impossible to conceptualise it, really. Billions of lives. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

So then I decided to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and take the small. The tiny, really. The very building block of our lives, the moments wherein we all live. Where we live at the most specific and the most real. The moments that come with each breath, each thought, each engagement with ourselves or the outside world. We have over 60,000 thoughts in a single day, and what good do they do us? We think of them as real, as who we are, when they are anything but. This is the real collective self-knowledge that Ulmer talked about. It’s also about giving evidence, testifying to the ethical experience.

And when I began to write about it and think about it (and I have been thinking about it for a while now), it did make sense. The problem (the disaster in progress, if you will) is that, so often, we don’t live our lives in the now. We are living in the past, dwelling on what’s done; or in the future, in something that doesn’t exist at all, worrying about what may be. And not enough in this breath, in being, in this moment.

And by doing this, we are not turning up for our own lives, and we are condemning ourselves to unfulfillment and disease. And we are sending our society down the wrong track, where people are blindly walking around or chasing their tails, forever in circles. Self judging, self harming, living in a daze, in aspirations of… what? We race around oblivious to what’s right there, instead of moving slowly forward into the light and seeing – really seeing.

Proust is quoted as saying: ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Everything we need is right there, right there, if we just look and take the time to see it. If we just pay attention.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do in this monument. To MEmorialise just that: paying attention to the moment. It’s a public issue, in that unhappiness, unfulfilment, cynicism, fear, hatred, anger, self-harm, despair, stress and anxiety are widespread crippling problems for many people all over the world – people who are living in endless cycles of misery and meaninglessness. It’s a personal issue in that I’ve tried to take some of the moments that matter to me, that I can be grateful for, that I can grant to myself with grace and kindness and put them into the piece.

And so I tried to create something that would endow some kind of meaning to these small moments, to show that they are not mundane, but magical, if we can only change our eyes as Proust suggests, and see them, really see them, for what they are.

Such as the simple gift of birdsong on a winter’s morning.

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Dusk Ahead by Junk Ensemble – Firkin Crane, Friday 13th November, 2015

Blind Trust

‘What is dance? What does it do?’

‘It tells stories? Doesn’t it?’

‘But how?’

‘By movement? Physicality? Rhythm? I don’t know. By how people move together? How they interact? And with music, is there music?’

‘Yes, there’s music.’

‘And dancers?’

‘Well of course there’s dancers. Five of them. Two women and three men. And a musician, a cellist, but there’s other music too that she accompanies. In one scene the dancers play music too.’

‘And a set?’

‘Yes, the set is dark and minimalist. It is about dusk, remember. There’s a chair for one piece. There are blindfolds. It’s about blindness, or going blind, I think. The first piece was where three dancers had blindfolds and they were being led by two others around the stage, with bells. When one of the bells was rung, the three blind dancers would change direction and follow it. Blindly.’

‘What do you think it was about?’

‘Helplessness, I think. And vulnerability. Imagine being so dependent on others that you had to trust them that much. Imagine being in the dark all the time. ’

‘A lot of trust in dancing, I’d imagine. If you jump, you’d trust the other dancer to be there and catch you.’

‘In another piece two men were mock fighting. Very physically – a type of wrestling. But they had to stop when a blindfold came off. One of the others rang a bell and they stopped. And another scene where they impersonated birds – ostriches, I think – and the other dancers put their heads into boxes and they danced with their heads in boxes.’

‘You know why birds do that?’

Because they’re stupid?’

‘Yes, and they believe they are safe when they cannot see the predator. Because if they cannot see the danger, they are invisible, there is no danger. Blind trust. To blind people everything is invisible until you walk into it or it walks into you.’

‘And there’s a dog. Well, a wolf.’

‘A wolf? What does he do?’

‘Not much. It’s one of the dancers with a huge wolf’s head. Very atmospheric, he or she just walked around. But it was a sense of danger too. The night is a dangerous place and blind people live there all the time. And one of the dancers kept walking into a wall. I think that scene opened and closed the show, so I guess it’s important.’

‘Because she was blind?’

‘I suppose. And in one scene four of the dancers allowed another to walk on them. Well, not walk on them, but walk in the air on the others’ hands. The other just held out their hands and that one dancer walked along them. But the trust! If your hand wasn’t there…’

‘If you were blind you’d have to have somebody you really trusted. Imagine if you’re on the side of the street and somebody said it’s okay to walk across the street, there are no cars coming. Total trust.’

‘Total. In another scene, two men were using a chair. Well one of them couldn’t walk or move very well and the other let him sit on the chair and then kept knocking him off it. That sounds stupid and slapstick but it wasn’t at all – it was… beautiful, in a way. The able bodied man kept knocking the disabled man, but it was still lovely. Strange.’

‘It sounds strange.’

‘Yes but it’s like describing art or music, or sport – you can do it but not do it justice. There was a scene where a man and woman were kissing. But it wasn’t really kissing. It was like they were attached by the lips but they still have to move, to dance, to walk, to swing around. Amazing. And another when two women were attached by their hair and another where two dancers were attached by a rope. I think it was a story about attachment and dependence and trust. And safety and danger, and daring, and hurt. She was hurt when she kept walking into the wall. She got cut when she was kissing that man. They got hurt when they were wrestling.’

‘It was about a lot of things, so.’

‘It was.’

Class 9, November 10th: The MEmorial Step 1

“At the heart of writing, Lamott argues, lies a capacity for quiet grit and a willingness to decondition the all too human tendency to get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey that we’re too paralyzed to take the first step.”

I like learning new things. It doesn’t get any easier when you get older and find yourself out of your comfort zone. But the learning process itself is very satisfying and the feeling of empowerment that comes with new knowledge is self-enabling and invigorating.

So when we trudged en masse out of the class in Brookfield facing the test of a new project, with a challenging deadline, using an unfamiliar tool, there was a fair bit of bitching and dread. And group-think does kick in too and that’s fine. It’s natural. It’s part of the process. We all need a good moan every now and then – the cleansing feeling of a rant.

But deep down we all knew that we’d give it a go again and help each other out. And that process began quickly – offers were sent out and taken up. The natural camaraderie that has been a feature of the class kicked in, on queue. Youtube didn’t hurt.

And one of the things I’ve figured out over the years when faced with a challenge, especially a big challenge like writing a five hundred page report or starting a two year project, is that it’s vital not to think too far ahead. As Anne Lamott says: do it Bird by Bird. A long journey begins with a single step. Then another. Don’t be a perfectionist.

So I did. We all did. And my first pass at a project on Premiere Pro (above) isn’t much to look at or listen to, but it got done, and I learned from it. I took the step and it was from the heart. And while it’s a bit of a mess, it’s my mess and I’m okay with it.

As the great woman said:

What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

Class 8: November 3rd: Is Feidir Linn!

Is_Feidir_Linn_

“We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

It’s all Neil Gaiman’s fault. He made a speech a couple of years ago in support of libraries and daydreaming, and it really hit a nerve. Here’s the link if you’re interested. You should be. That’s a quote from it, above.

When we were asked to write a manifesto, I immediately thought of the most famous one – The Communist Manifesto of 1848, by Marx and Engels. Not Groucho, the other one.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I know and I’m ashamed, believe me), a manifesto “often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance.”

Life stance? What could be better than the championing of daydreaming as a life stance? And daydreaming has to be a prerequisite for art. For writers, as Neil says, it’s not an option – it’s an obligation.

So I decided on all three: art, politics and life. It can hardly be complete in five sentences, but I have five months until the election. Here it is:

 The Daydream Party of Ireland Manifesto

The Daydream Party of Ireland believes that daydreaming is a basic human right.

When elected to Government the DPI will ensure a fair distribution of daydreams to all.

Daydreams will be a primary and secondary school subject.

Every worker will have at least three daydream work-breaks per day.

We believe that now, more than ever, Ireland needs its daydreams: make this a reality – vote the DPI in the 2016 general election!

I recorded it on my phone first in a fake declamatory voice redolent of radio political broadcasts of the 1970s. But then the instruction was clearly to write it so I put it on Facebook. It won an election for Obama, so why not me?

I wanted it to be playful and serious at the same time. Imagine if daydreams were the capital that Marx wrote about? And instead of the class struggle we fought the fantasy struggle? And if we organised to control the means of producing daydreams? Imagine, as the Liverpudlian guy with the glasses, used to sing. Before they shot him.

YES WE CAN!